Camp Rantoul Practice One Tidbits

Quick hitting news and notes from Illinois first practice at Camp Rantoul.

Monday marked the first day in Rantoul, as the team took the 20-minute trip out to the old Air Force base this morning for the first of two practices. The first scrimmage of August will be this evening at 5:45 p.m., for anybody in the area. Most practices in Rantoul are open to the media and fans, so here's a few notes I gathered while hanging out…

- Linebacker Jonathan Brown (shoulder) didn't practice this morning, but don't be alarmed – it seems as though the staff is limiting the work the defensive star will put in this fall to keep him fresh. Coach Beckman said Brown will scrimmage tonight, so worry not for now.

I'll say this for Brown, he was like another coach out there this morning. He was on the sideline barking out orders, congratulating guys and picking up guys who didn't do things right. There was one moment, in 11 on 11s, where Brown was in the center of the defensive huddle, calm but intense, preparing the defense for the upcoming series. It seems as though Brown has taken his leadership to the desired level, that of a senior that hopes to make some noise on the national level in his final season.

- OC Bill Cubit said he wasn't happy with the quarterbacks performance this morning. The group wasn't terrible or anything, but the guys there weren't as sharp as they needed to be.

From my observations… Wes Lunt is the best quarterback RIGHT NOW that Illinois has. Aaron Bailey has the strongest arm, no question. Nathan Scheelhaase, as is known, has the most experience/knowledge and Reilly O'Toole has more knowledge than Lunt and Bailey while having a stronger arm than Scheelhaase.

Scheelhaase's arm is average, but his leadership is elite. He's still the current starter, but he and Reilly are splitting reps equally right now. Bailey is mixing in less frequently than last week, as reps are becoming more and more important. Lunt, obviously, isn't getting reps in 11 on 11s.

- The defense got the better of the offense in situational drills at the end of practice. It wasn't even close. Coach Beckman designed a few situations, an example being 3rd and eight with two minutes to go in the first half, to test both units. Not even the coordinators and coaches knew what was coming. The defense stopped the offense every time, as field goals instead of touchdowns were the result of each drive.

- Steve Hull is a damn good athlete. The guy may be the best wideout speaking in terms of raw ability to go out and catch the football. He made at least three catches this morning that caught those of us on the sideline by surprise. He has hands and he's super fast. Can he stay healthy? That's the question.

- Henry Dickinson was getting legit reps today. With Brown out and Mike Svetina messing around with the Star position some, Dickinson was out more often than I've seen him to this point. He may be getting some looks at the Star, too. He still needs some time, as guys like Zeph Grimes and T.J. Neal were getting these types of reps, too, but it's good to see Dickinson back out there after last season's gruesome injury.

- Corey Lewis looked much better today, in terms of his knee and moving around out there. There were a few times last week he didn't look quite comfortable, but today he seemed much more fluid.

- Houston Bates looked unstoppable in 11 on 11s and the situational drills. He was in Scheelhaase's face seemingly on every single down (see picture above).

Freshmen tight end Tyler White and Star James Crawford were the two guys to be "de-stripped" following practice, meaning their peers deem them no longer as new guys but as part of those ready to contribute. Martize Barr and Abe Cajuste were the first two of fall camp to complete the initiation. I'll see if any others were in the past couple days…

A few plays of note…

- Earnest Thomas had an interception early in 11 on 11s.
- Freshman wideout D.J. Taylor caught a deep pass from O'Toole. Jevaris Little received quite a chewing from Beckman on that one.
- Scheelhaase, facing pressure from – you guessed – Bates, put the perfect amount of touch on a screen pass to Josh Ferguson for a nice gain.
- Martize Barr ran a reverse.
- O'Toole and Scheelhaase practiced in a formation together, Scheelhaase at running back.
- Davontay Kwaaning had a nice interception near the end of practice.
- Taylor Zalewski continues to have no trouble on field goals.
I'll continue posting things throughout the day in the lead-up to the scrimmage. Check back for more tidbits following tonight's session.

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