USAToday // Tim Heitman

Practice Day 1 notebook

Paul James III leaves Illini; Dionte Taylor with 'huge opportunity'; Cubits mourn loss of family matriarch

CHAMPAIGN – Daily roster checks are sometimes necessary this time of year. An Illinois football roster update on Thursday showed one fewer Illini.

Sophomore defensive end Paul James III has withdrawn from the university, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman – though he did not offer further details of James III's departure.

“Wish the best to Paul,” Beckman said. “I know that it was tough on him, but I know he'll take it as a challenge and get better.”

Even though he was listed at third on the depth chart behind seniors Jihad Ward and Kenny Nelson, James III – a former three-star recruit out of Florida – had the talent and size to make an impact.

“When you lose a player that plays a bit for you – he was listed as our third right now – someone has to step up.”

Beckman mentioned that a player from the LEO position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, could transition to defensive end. Some possibilities include junior Dawuane Smoot or junior college transfer Sean Adesanya, who practiced as an Illini for the first time on Thursday afternoon. Defensive tackle Joe Fotu also played the position earlier in his career.

With Ward and Nelson, the Illini may not need another body at the position, but the Illini will need some help at the position in the future. No other current Illini has played the position as Illinois did not land a high school defensive end in the Class of 2015 nor the Class of 2014.

“We got numerous guys who can play out there,” Beckman said. “We want a bigger guy like Jihad, someone like Kenny, a tall, big guy. We'll find somebody out there.”

Davis gone too

James III was the second player Illinois lost from the roster this week. True freshman wide receiver Trenard Davis, who had been on campus since June, was dismissed from the university for academic reasons.

Beckman left the door open for Davis to return to Illinois, however.

“We hope to have him back in the future,” Beckman said.

Davis and American Heritage School (Florida) teammate Desmond Cain were both recruited as defensive backs, but both were converted to wide receivers. Cain remains with the team.

“It's really frustrating for the kid (Davis) because the kid is excited about being around and excited about being here,” wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy said. “Other than that, it's part of the game. You see it every day in transactions across the country. For us personally because we recruited the kid and he's part of our program, you're frustrated for the kid because you know how bad he wanted to be here.”

Welcome selfishness

The Illini's depth at receiver will be challenged. Thousand-yard receiver Mikey Dudek, is out until at least October as the sophomore recovers from a torn ACL. Another likely top-four target, senior Justin Hardee, used crutches to move around the sideline on Thursday with a walking boot covering a broken foot. He likely will miss the first few games of the season.

Senior Geronimo Allison and talented sophomore Malik Turner were likely starters, regardless of the Illini injuries. But junior Dionte Taylor (zero receptions last season) faces his best opportunity yet as he also repped with the first string on Thursday.

“It's huge (for Taylor),” Bellamy said. “It's hard to see your brother go down and be injured. But at the same time, that selfishness has to come out and say, 'Heres' my opportunity.' They all said it. Mikey stood up in front of the room and said, 'You guys better take advantage of this opportunity.' They all said it. G-Mo said, 'That's more (catches) for me. I'm going to take them.' That arrogance as a group sits well with me, because it means they're going to work hard for it.”

Wise moves (on)

Beckman was told the news of University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise's resignation as he walked off the practice field Thursday afternoon.

“Shocking,” Beckman said. “Chancellor Wise was awesome to me. I enjoyed being around her, and I wish her the best. ...She'll be missed.”

Wise cited “external issues” as a distraction to the university's mission. While the Steven Salatia lawsuit has been a big issue for Wise, the athletic department also has provided her some distractions. The university conducted two costly investigations into abuse allegations into women's basketball – that review was released this week, exonerating the program of racism and abuse allegations – and football (that investigation into abuse and medical misconduct is ongoing).

Beckman had little immediate interaction with the chancellor, but Beckman's boss – Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas – reported to Wise, who has supported Thomas throughout the allegations.

Cubits coach with heavy hearts

Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's mother – and quarterback coach Ryan Cubit's grandmother – passed away this week at the age of 83. While the death of the family matriarch wasn't unexpected, Bill Cubit – 61, and the oldest of seven children – was coaching with a heavy heart.

“She was just, wow, what a great woman,” Cubit said. “Me and Ryan were talking about it. I think some people do have a purpose when they do pass on. It's almost like she passed on when she knew I had all the support from the kids here. She was a good woman. A good woman.”

Bill and Ryan Cubit will miss a practice next week to attend the funeral services.

First commitment in 2017

The Cubits did receive some good news on Thursday. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) running back Mike Epstein became the first Class of 2017 prospect to verbally commit to the Illini. Read his comments on his commitment here.

Ryan Cubit was the lead recruiter. He and his father have maintained a close relationship with the St. Thomas Aquinas staff, which leads one of the best programs in the country. Epstein's teammate, receiver Dominic Thieman, is committed to the Illini in the Class of 2016. Current Illini sophomore linebacker James Crawford Jr. is a St. Thomas Aquinas graduate.

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