Jeremy Werner

Illini Training Camp premium notes: Aug. 13

Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner unveils his notebook of observations from Illini football's open practice Saturday at Memorial Stadium

Sorry for the delay, but Illinois had some big, big, big recruiting news that I had to attend to on Saturday night. Illinois practiced under the lights in front of a few hundred fans on a perfect, picturesque Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. Full pads. The first half of practice was a lot of walk-through and special teams. Then the Illini ratched it up with some good 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

- Speaking of special teams, the kicker battle is a concern. Lovie Smith wasn't that happy with his options during the spring battle which included senior David Reisner and Chase McLaughlin. This fall, freshman James McCourt has had some good days, but he missed about three straight attempts on Saturday.

CB Cameron Watkins, WR M.J. McGriff, LB Ayo Shogbonyo, OL Eddy Fish and DT Jamal Milan all sat out practice. None look that concerning, but Milan was wearing a wrap on his knee. He sat out some of spring after missing last season with a knee sprain. 

- Back at practice after missing earlier this week were LB James CrawfordRB Reggie Corbin, DE Gimel President and WR Desmond Cain, who wore a red jersey. Cain looks much more developed strength-wise this fall.

- I say it a lot, but Wes Lunt's arm is a thing of beauty. He drops it into a bucket and can make throws all over the field.

- Stock up on Lunt's former Rochester WR teammate Zach Grant. Right now, he looks like the third receiver. Illinois has talent at receiver but Grant is one of the few showing consistency. He and Lunt have really found a connection on seam routes, and Lunt has done a good job of making the safeties bite toward the sideline to open up the deep middle. Grant isn't Mikey Dudek, but he could step up like Cain stepped up last year to be that reliable set of hands.

Kendrick Foster continues to have a nice fall. I think he's earning the chance to get 5-10 touches a game and he's really improved in the passing game.

- TE Tyler White is starting to get more reps. The Illini have taken it easy on him as he recovers from last season's torn ACL, but he is the best blocker of the group and a big strong guy out in the flat.

- TE Caleb Reams has the best hands of the tight ends. He's a bit short, but he's athletic and has glue on his fingers. HE caught a few touchdown passes during goal-line drills. I'm pleasantly surprised by the tight end group, and it may have more to do with the fact that Garrick McGee loves to use the tight ends to help the run game and exploit mismatches on linebackers and defensive backs.

- Again, I'm sounding like a broken record, but this offensive line has huge issues on the second string. Christian DiLauro got a bit knicked up in practice, forcing Adam Solomon to play RT with the first string. Dawuane Smoot obliterated him. I think Solomon is more of an OT, and if one of the OTs did get hurt, I imagine Gabe Megginson would slide out with Connor Brennan filling in at guard. Megginson continues to go through growing pains too. In one-on-ones, Rob Bain got the best of him, getting into his pads and throwing Megginson to the ground before blowing by him on a speed rush two snaps later. Megginson has the talent, but he's just lost in the mental part of the game like most redshirt freshmen offensive linemen. With Solomon repping with the 1s, the second string OL had three walk-ons and Doug Kramer -- who wasn't even supposed to be here this fall -- surrounding Brennan.

- This defensive line is great. Six of these guys are starting quality if you include the starters, President and Milan. They consistently get pressure. They give up some chunks in the run game, but this is the best Illini DL group since 2011 -- bar none.

- Another freshman I love -- and the staff tells me they love -- is DT Kenyon Jackson. He's  way too short (about 5-foot-10) but he bench presses 425 pounds about three times right now, has a quick burst off the line, gets under people (hard to block what's lower than you) and has advanced hand work. Hopefully he doesn't have to play in 2016, but he could. The 2017 defensive tackles should be all right with Milan, Jackson, Tito Odenigbo (who looks like a solid rotation player right now but not a starter) and Tymir Oliver, who reminds me a lot of Odenigbo. It's just the edge is pretty vacant outside of Henry McGrew, who reminds me of solid but unspectacular Tim Kynard -- more run-stuffer than pass rusher.

Dele Harding reminds me of Jonathan Brown. Not the biggest nor the fastest, but he finds the football. He could play, but doesn't need to with Hardy Nickerson in the fold. Still, it'll be hard to keep him off special teams.

- CB Chris James has some potential as that nickelback. He loves to jump out routes. I'm calling for one pick that he takes to the house this year. I still don't know about Darius Mosely as the starting boundary CB. He's really struggled to turn and run with receivers at Illinois, but it might help him to play in the Tampa 2, where the safeties cover most of the back end. He does bring physicality.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories