“I’ve trained harder. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “More running, a lot more on the field, and less in the weight room, actually. I just want to get in the best shape I can.”
Injury prevention will be important for Ferguson this year. He’s taking as many measures as he can to protect himself and stay healthy.
“After practice I jog, cool down, stretch, and hit the ice tub,” he said. “I put on a few more pounds this offseason.”
Ferguson has shown his dynamic playmaking ability not only as a rusher, but as a pass-catcher. With another year under Cubit’s coaching in the playbook, Ferguson is prepared for anything offensively, and he spent a considerable amount of time this offseason working on his receiving skills, too.
“I caught a lot of balls this summer and ran a lot,” he said. “I caught a lot more than I did in prior seasons. I did a lot of route running, too.”
His versatility allows him to be a threat at both a rusher and receiver from the tailback position. He doesn’t know what his workload will be in either role, but he’s ready to make plays at the position and move the ball down the field.
“I couldn’t tell you (how much more receiving I will do this year),” he said. “It all depends on who we’re playing and when we’re playing and what’s needed at that time. I’m willing to do whatever’s asked of me.”
Illinois graduated several experienced receivers after last season, but early returns on the new receivers on campus have been extremely positive. With plenty of weapons at receiver, Ferguson will be able to focus on running the ball more frequently, but knows that these receivers can stretch the field and open up space for him in the passing game as well.
“With those guys at receiver, we can run the ball a lot more,” he said. “That’s what I came here for. Whether it’s running the ball or catching the ball, I can do it.”
Ferguson’s workload still figures to be heavy. Even though he will often be splitting carries with senior Donovonn Young, Ferguson knows he will be on the field a lot, and he wants to be a threat from start to finish of every game.
“My offseason training was one area (I identified for improvement),” he said. “I wanted to get in the best shape possible so that I can be at my best for all four quarters.”
Ferguson is optimistic for the offense this season. After the improvement throughout last year’s campaign and the increased familiarity with the playbook that formed this offseason, Ferguson thinks the ceiling is high for the offensive unit this year.
“I think we should do nothing but progress. Every week we’ll be getting better,” he said. “Hopefully by the end of the season we’ll be one of the best in the nation.”
And even throughout this year, Ferguson believes that the team can make progress in a similar way to last year.
“From my experience, the season gets easier as it goes,” he said. “Things start slowing down, and we get more in tune with the offense and what the coaches want for that particular season. As we go, we should get stronger, and I think the same for myself.”
So far in camp, Ferguson has taken snaps from three different quarterbacks all vying for the starting position. He knows each one brings something different to the table, but regardless of who is ultimately chosen as the starter, Ferguson knows the offense will be in good hands.
“Aaron can run like a running back and throw as hard as anybody with great accuracy,” he said. “Wes is the same. Reilly has a great head for the game. Whichever one they pick, we’ll be fine.”
He knows the competition at quarterback will not only help him be more flexible with different quarterbacks, as the staff has not ruled out the possibility of rotating all three into the game, but also has an “iron sharpens iron” effect on the three contenders.
“With three people fighting for one job, it’s going to be tough,” he said, “but whoever wins that will definitely be ready.”
He continued, “I feel comfortable with all of them. They all know the game and know the offense. It’s been fun. Whoever is there, I feel like they will be successful.”