Rantoul Scrimmage Tidbits

Quick hitting news and notes from Illinois' scrimmage Monday at Camp Rantoul.

The rain held off for Illinois Monday evening until post-scrimmage interviews, perfect timing for players and coaches who were undoubtedly tired after going through two workouts at Camp Rantoul.

Here's a few notes from the scrimmage…

Yeah, yeah, we've all heard the joke – Illinois won the game. Or, if your glass is half broken, Illinois lost.

So which was it? If you like offense, the Illini won. Defensive minds out there probably didn't like Monday's action.

I legit quit counting the touchdowns, which surprised me after the offense failed to convert a single first down against the defense in game simulations Monday morning.

Pass protection improved and Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson made big plays, accounting for at least four touchdowns… Maybe more.

The two No. 1 units didn't go up against each other all that often, but the No. 2 offense scored quite a bit on the starting defense.

- Jonathan Brown didn't participate. According to Coach Beckman, he has a mild concussion and should return soon. It's not like Brown, a senior, multi-year starter and clear-cut best NFL prospect on that side of the ball, needs to go through a scrimmage on Aug. 12. Would have been nice to see him play alongside Houston Bates, Mason Monheim and Earnest Thomas though.

- A quick synopsis on the quarterbacks… Nathan Scheelhaase had a very, very good day. I would call it mostly solid, with a few spectacular moments and no obvious mistakes. That's kind of become what Scheelhaase is all about this fall.

Aaron Bailey had a great night. He completed four of his first five passes with two touchdowns and continued to look great well after I quit counting stats. He did, however, throw an interception on a ball that could have gone either way and the defender, Jaylen Dunlap, won the fight. There were a couple other throws that went off target, but overall Bailey did what I expected him to do for most of fall camp – he wowed us on many occasions and made a few big mistakes, too.

Reilly O'Toole did not look good. There's really nothing much else to say. He did hang in there and make some good throws as the night progressed, but he just seems a tick behind on most decisions or throws. Like I said, the offense killed it for most of the night, so Reilly was out there for some of that success. But he didn't do anything noteworthy and was average-looking at best.

- As previously stated, Young and Ferguson enjoyed a great night together. Both had plenty of room to work with and it's funny – both had moments where they flashed the other's supposed strength. Young had at least four runs of the gash-type variety, where he got out in the open field and showed good speed and explosion. Ferguson, while doing most of his work on sweeps and reverses, also had other runs where I thought he showed more than enough power and fight to gain extra yards. These two need to stay healthy – they've got a good thing going. And yes, there was one shotgun formation with both of them in the backfield together. The play that was run out of the look was the option read where Young got the ball, which makes sense.

- Receiver-wise, Ryan Lankford caught a 97-yard touchdown pass from Scheelhaase. Well, the pass, which was well thrown, was about 50 yards of it. Lankford burned freshman corner Darius Mosely and took it the rest of the way. He is fast, and when he's lined up against a corner that's young or smaller, he can avoid his lack of strength getting him caught up in the press.

I'll stay on record as saying Steve Hull is the best, raw wideout on the team. He had a one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone in warm-up drills that was special. He also fumbled during the scrimmage, though, losing the ball in the open field after a nice catch and run. Safety Taylor Barton made the strip.

Other receiver notes… Miles Osei made a few catches, but his biggest moment came when he caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage, turned and fired a pass to the end zone that Martize Barr dropped. It was a well-timed play and Osei, the former quarterback, did his thing, but Barr couldn't hang on.

For the most part, I thought Barr had a decent night. He made some catches across the field and other slot-type routes. He did miss a read once that got under Bill Cubit's skin. Basically he zagged out to the corner of the end zone when he should have zigged in to the middle. The play led to an incompletion instead of a likely touchdown. Cubit was not pleased. He let that be known, but O'Toole was involved in the pre-snap mix-up as well.

I saw Spencer Harris make a nice block on a Justin Hardee touchdown catch and run. Harris sprang the score. Hardee had a few nice moments, as did freshman Marchie Murdock, who caught two scores thrown by Bailey. Devin Church had a handful of grabs. He's small, but he showed the potential to make plays Monday.

- Tight ends… eh. Jon Davis didn't play. At this point, I don't know what's going on with him, but he needs to be out there. He's too versatile and athletic not to be used. Matt LaCosse didn't play either. I don't think Evan Wilson had a catch, not that I saw at least. Freshman Tyler White logged some reps with the No. 2 unit. He continues to impress this fall.

- Defensively, I think Bates is the man. He wasn't all over the quarterback like this morning, but in these scrimmages where the quarterback isn't live, it's hard to tell sometimes when a takedown would have happened or not. Bates is going to be an integral piece, no doubt.

- I thought Earnest Thomas had a good showing. He's always talking to the guys in front of him and ALWAYS hustling to the ball. Monheim screamed out praise at him once for coming all the way across the field to stop Bailey on a keeper. Like Bates, Thomas is a got-to-have-this-guy-out-there type player.

- Zeph Grimes got the majority of the snaps in place of Brown, which I found mildly surprising. That's because Mike Svetina was at the Star with Eric Finney injured. This is where Illinois can get into trouble, as I've pointed out. Things start getting sketchy when one or two starters get hurt at the same time.

- The defensive line has to be better than it was tonight. Like I said, pass protection was wonderful and the running backs had plenty of open holes. Tim Kynard is locked in at his spot and he's solid. Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe are in there most of the time with the ones, but I think Abe Cajuste and Teko Powell have a chance to make a move up the ladder if they get after it.

- And don't freak out too much about the defense being beat up a little bit. And don't get too high on the offense climbing the walls, either. It was the first scrimmage, so keep it realistic until we see more.

- As far as the Star position goes, the first team went with Mike Svetina for the most part and then in nickel and dime situations went with the young corners, Mosely and Dunlap. I didn't see B.J. Bello out there at all, so that's something to check on with Coach Beckman Tuesday.

Here are a few quick hitters I jotted down…

- Donovonn Young absolutely rocked Davontay Kwaaning on one play near the goal line. Young then scored on a short run the next down.

- Bailey had many moments, but I think his best was on an ordinary play. The receiver ran a 10-yard hitch. Bailey took a two-step drop and boom! The ball was in the wideout's hands so fast. It was like snap, step, step, throw, catch – as if it happened in less than three seconds. You know, exactly what Cubit is looking for. In terms of the quarterbacks that can play this season, nobody can make all the throws Bailey can.

- It's just sometimes Bailey makes throws he shouldn't. Like the one Dunlap picked off. Dunlap has made a name for himself so far.

- But… He got blasted by none other than Scheelhaase on a reverse play. Nathan got out in front of Ferguson on the run and put Dunlap into the ground with a perfect block.

- Thomas had a big hit on tight end Tim Russell. It was another one of those plays where the safety travelled a long distance to reach his destination and boy, did he ever. Thomas also sacked O'Toole on one play later on.

- Tailback LaKeith Wells run hard. He's tough. I don't think he'll play much this season, but the kid gives mad effort and doesn't shy away from contact.

- Neither does safety Zane Petty. He put his head in on a few plays.

- The second string line… Looks. Not. Good. Of all those guys, Jake Feldmeyer and Joe Spencer appear most able to play if needed, but the rest of the bunch is undersized and inexperienced. Is what it isn't, I guess you could say.

- Dami Ayoola talked a lot of trash for a series or two. Kynard didn't appreciate it and the two had a moment after Kynard swallowed him up at the line-of-scrimmage on one run. After all the talking Ayoola did, he defense had a good time with that.

That's what I've got for now. I've posted numerous videos, as well as the offensive and defensive depth charts for the game, so check those out. We'll have more content throughout the day Wednesday. And as always, feel free to ask me anything about the scrimmage or the team in general on the premium message board. I'm there night and day, waiting for anything you throw at me…

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