Fundamentals Emphasized On Day Two

Day two in Camp Rantoul was more of the same, as the Fighting Illini football team continues preparations for the fall season. In what was likely the hottest day of the week, the Illini continued to work on fundamentals. For the most part, the players appeared to be sufficiently conditioned to survive the heat well.

The Orange unit practiced in the morning and the Blue in the afternoon, a reversal of Monday's practices. This way, both groups have a chance to work in the cooler morning air, an important consideration during these hot summer days. Illinois coach Tim Beckman explained how Illini players must take care of themselves to survive the conditions.

"I think it incorporates being tough mentally, being tough physically, pushing your body through it when you're tired. Making sure you hydrate and get enough sleep, all those things. That's what a college football player has to do."

Splitting the squads is nothing new to Beckman. But having shorter workouts without pads is different than what occurred in Camp Rantoul with former staffs.

"I've always done it. We got after it for an hour and 15 minutes of hard work, making sure that the kids are working the best they can. There's no down time, that's what the game of football is all about. We try to play at a fast pace, so we're gonna practice at a fast pace."

Practices will get longer once the entire squad practices together.

"With split squads, we've got about 50 guys out here. That's why we try to get done what we can in a fast amount of time. When we get the team together, of course there will be longer practices."

Most of the freshmen have starter role models showing them the way. But Beckman must make sure he doesn't overload them early.

"We keep it simple and try to make sure they can be successful. There were some assignment problems, but it is probably better than was to be expected."

It may seem unusual since there is intense competition for starting assignments, but it is obvious quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase, Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei all get along extremely well and help each other improve.

"Reilly, Nathan and Miles are all close friends. They all compete at a level to make each other better. And that's gonna make this football team better. I'm very proud that those three men, along with Chase Haslett, are involved with this football team at quarterback."

Illini defensive backs made some good plays Tuesday. For the Orange unit, walkon safety Austin Abner intercepted a pass late in the morning session. Freshman Taylor Barton, senior Pat Nixon-Youman and senior Jack Ramsey broke up passes. Redshirt freshman Eaton Spence blanketed Fritz Rock on a sideline pattern.

In the afternoon session, the first string offense was more successful against the first string defense. There were some defensive gems, like freshman cornerback V'Angelo Bentley staying step-for-step with speedy high school teammate Justin Hardee on a long sideline bomb. And freshman linebacker Mike Svetina intercepting a pass from walkon quarterback James Nudera.

Otherwise, Nathan Scheelhaase and Miles Osei were on the money most of the afternoon. Both are showing a lot more poise in the pocket and passing accuracy. For that matter, Reilly O'Toole looked much sharper this morning than yesterday afternoon also.

It should be noted that defensive tackle Akeem Spence ran through center Jake Feldmeyer on the way to sacking Scheelhaase. And senior defensive end Justin Staples sped by a second string lineman for another sack.

Feldmeyer has a smaller frame than most offensive linemen, and Spence took advantage of him. Feldmeyer has worked for four years to bulk up and gain the strength needed to play on Saturdays. He has quick feet and can keep up with defenders laterally, but he appears vulnerable to a bull rush.

The Illini are enjoying their final season with three year veteran Zak Pedersen as their long snapper, and they will need to develop a replacement. Fortunately, they have freshmen walkons Zach Hirth and Champaign's Michael Martin competing for a backup role.

Hirth, who was considered by some the top long snapper in the country last year, recorded a 1.85 second punt snap time, while Martin recorded one at 1.93 seconds.

The Illini have their final day of double sessions at Camp Rantoul Wednesday.


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