The junior quarterback entered this spring under the direction of coordinator Bill Cubit, O'Toole's third different quarterbacks coach in as many seasons.
A new philosophy, system and book of plays were usual offseason adjustments. Refining his throwing motion, to Cubit's desired look, was something new.
"I've been trying to work on it since I got to college," the 6-4, 220-pound native of Wheaton, Ill., said. "But I've been with three different quarterback coaches, all saying different things."
Cubit was informed of O'Toole's throwing mechanics shortly after accepting the position at Illinois in January. He had an elongated motion, which was adding time to his release. Cubit watched film, but without having seen O'Toole throw live, he was worried about the correction process.
Concerns were eased after seeing him throw for the first time.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought it might be, but he's worked really hard at it, I give him a lot of credit," Cubit said.
It's certainly not a finished process. For O'Toole, who played in seven games last season, throwing for 564 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions, individual work has produced improvement. Old form and bad habits resurface as instincts take over when he's running with the full offense in live drills against the defense.
"When you get with the team all of a sudden he reverts back," Cubit said. "You just have to concentrate."
The longtime coach knows how to handle such issues. A coach since the 1970s, with many years spent guiding quarterbacks, Cubit doesn't load O'Toole down in the heat of the moment with excessive rhetoric.
Instead, when he sees the old throwing motion return, Cubit simply yells out, "Push!," an instruction to push the ball back, up and out more quickly.
"You can't sit back there and discuss everything," Cubit said. "You've just got to have a simple word that's a mechanism for his mind until he figures it out."
The Fighting Illini struggled offensively last season, and the passing attack was never really established. Starter Nathan Scheelhaase was injured in the season opener and didn't appear healthy for much of the year. O'Toole started two games and completed 74 percent of his passes, but managed only 80 yards a game as the offense as a whole was unable to establish an identity.
The hope is that Cubit, head coach at Western Michigan the last eight seasons, can revitalize and stabilize the offense. The plan centers on giving the quarterback position the majority of responsibility.
"Watching film with him, a lot is on the quarterback which is nice," O'Toole said. "Getting us in and out of plays. From watching the film I've watched with him every single defense that they're in, we always have an answer. I think that's good for us. It's been good to work with him and I'm excited to learn more and more."
Head coach Tim Beckman says Scheelhaase and O'Toole are both in the running for the starting job. To this point in spring practice, Beckman says, O'Toole is performing at a high level.
"There's no question about it," he said. "You can see his game progressing the more he's out there."
With a clean slate, a new system and an improved throwing motion that's well on it's way, O'Toole could be the starter in 2013.
"I think when I first got here there were some questions, but we can win with him," Cubit said.