Illini Training Camp Premium Notes (Aug. 11)

Illini Inquirer publisher writes down notes throughout every Illinois open training camp practice. Here's what he saw from Thursday's fully-padded practice

- Fully padded practice on a hot and humid day. A sauna in the sun for the players, and even the coaches were soaked through their T-shirts. 

- Out with injuries today were: Gimel President (ankle), Reggie Corbin (hamstring), Kenyon Jackson (ankle), James CrawfordCameron WatkinsDesmond Cain and Eddy Fish. President, Corbin, Jackson and Crawford all did cardio workouts and most looked good to go, especially Corbin. Cain and Watkins just watched from the sideline, but neither looked like they had a serious injury. Fish has an arm in a sling. Looks like a shoulder injury.

- The Illini went a lot of one-on-one, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 today. At the end of practice, the Illini even went fully live tackling to the ground for about a dozen plays. Don't worry, guys like Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Wes Lunt weren't touched. Actually, hardly any of the top running backs were used, mostly just goal-line packages with fullbacks like Nathan Echard and Austin Roberts.

- The offense continues to look more and more crisp. The defense easily is still better, in my opinion, but the offense is getting its fair share of wins now too.

- The Illini now have four quarterbacks again. They moved walk-on Camren Miller from running back to quarterback, which he played at Brother Rice (along with Ricky Smalling). He's short and a scrambler. Not much of an arm.

- Sometimes we take for granted just how talented Wes Lunt is as a passer. He always looks great in practice. Yes, I get it. He's not getting hit. But he makes throws that few college passers can, which is why I still think he'll be drafted or find his way on an NFL roster. He throws the ball on a thread or can drop it right in between defenders, like he did a couple times today on big gains to Zach Grant twice and to M.J. McGriff in the corner of the end zone (McGriff was just too short to catch it). I'm just afraid that we'll never see Lunt reach his full potential because of injury in 2014 and supporting cast in 2015 and 2016.

Chayce Crouch can look good in this offense sometimes. It has a lot of rollouts where he has two passing options (a receiver or tight end) or run. He can work in this in short spurts. But at some point against Big Ten defense, you have to spread the field, and he really struggles to throw downfield. Jeff George can throw it far. He just doesn't do it accurately consistently.

Kendrick Foster has had a nice camp. He can give Vaughn some breathers. He looks a little quicker and has improved in the passing game. He always falls forward. But I wouldn't confuse this as a huge breakout. He's just turned into a decent complementary option.

- I'm still waiting for a receiver to really grab me and go, "Yup, he can be relied on," outside of Malik Turner. The No. 2 continues to be Justin Hardee. He's fast and has decent length. I think he'll be solid. With Cain out, Zach Grant got a lot of reps as the slot. He's gaining confidence, but he lacks great speed. He seems to be in the right spot at the right time though. Sam Mays has moments, and then disappears. Dionte Taylor is a veteran and cat-quick but he dropped almost more passes than he caught last year.  Dominic Thieman is a good receiver, but still needs to add strength and learn how to block. A lot of guys with some talent but little experience or consistency.

- I'm a fan of M.J. McGriff. I like recruits who are great at certain things even if they lack a certain other thing. McGriff lacks height but he's super quick and agile and has really strong hands. In a one-on-one drill with Jaylen Dunlap, he shook the Illini No. 1 cornerback and caught a contest pass despite Dunlap swatting at the ball as he caught it. I can see him as a guy that McGee tries to get in one-on-one matchups with linebackers. I'd also stick him at returner and keep him there the next four years.

Zarrian Holcombe made one hell of a catch over Trenard Davis today (the picture at the top of this story). Holcombe has great length and hops, but he doesn't have a lot of quick-twitch ability. He's a 'tweener. I'd love to see him add 20 pounds and play tight end in this offense, but he's got a pretty thin waste which makes me think he might not have the frame to do it, unlike Griffin Palmer (who is getting yoked and is one of my pleasant surprised of camp) and Andrew Trainer.

- The first-string Illini offensive line should be fine (not great). But the second group is just bad. Connor Brennan is a solid sixth guy and maybe Zach Heath or Adam Solomon could be serviceable at some point, but the second group looks like a D-2 group. The third group is a bunch of freshmen who have no idea what they're doing yet. Beckman's staff really did a bad job of growing depth on the OL. Just pray for no more than one injury to the five starters.

- Outside of Dawuane Smoot, I'm not sure any Illini on the roster will be drafted higher than Jamal Milan. I'm a broken record, but Milan could be great. He continues to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. It wouldn't shock me to see Milan equal or pass up Rob Bain for reps in a few games. Bain is a good run-stuffing DT, but Milan is just a disruptor on all three downs.

- Speaking of Smoot, everyone knows him as a pass rusher, but he's just as disruptive in the run game. He's so strong and blew up a counter run by himself.

- With Crawford out, Tre Watson worked in with the first-string linebackers alongside Hardy Nickerson and Justice Williams

Jaylen Dunlap reminds me of Terry Hawthorne minus some time on the 40. Physical, hard worker, long. 

- I'm still concerned about free safety. You can tell the Illini are trying to get as much as they can out of Caleb Day by continuing to give Darwyn Kelly first-team reps, but Day gave up a touchdown to Zach Grant on a missed assignment. Still waiting for that light to flick on.


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