Illini Begin Drills at Camp Rantoul

The Illinois football team left the friendly confines of Champaign and arrived for their first training camp practice. On the final day before the pads go on, more and more players began to step forward in split squad workouts. Reporter Jack Lyman, as always is on hand.

Camp Rantoul opened today. Players and coaches are now isolated from the rest of the world where they can focus solely on preparing for a successful 2007 season.

Monday was the last split-squad practice. The pads go on Tuesday and the hitting will begin. In the meantime, both the offense and defense continued their introduction to the playbook.

It is not yet possible to estimate depth charts or get a complete evaluation of the players' abilities and potential. That will come with a few days of hitting and scrimmaging. The beauty of practices without pads and split squads is that it gives more squadmen the chance to impress the coaching staff. Some of the individuals who shone Monday included:

* Daniel Dufrene hit his holes hard and squeezed through one small opening too quickly for defenders to stop.

* The offensive line in the first session, which included possible starters Ryan McDonald, Martin O'Donnell, Jon Asamoah and Xavier Fulton, was impressive opening holes for the running game.

* Juice Williams and Eddie McGee looked confident and fast running the option. Freshman Phil Haig likely ran no option with his high school's spread offense, so he was still feeling his way.

*Josh Brent and D'Angelo McCray, two highly promising freshmen defensive linemen, were both seen breaking through to disrupt backfield maneuvering. McCray is listed at 290 pounds but admits to weighing 315.

*Bo Flowers made an aggressive move, breaking in front of Jacob Willis to almost intercept a pass from Eddie McGee. He is getting more comfortable and playing faster all the time, and Coach Zook is also highly impressed with his locker room leadership.

*Joe Morgan is looking faster and more confident at outside receiver, catching one nice long sideline pass from Juice over the top of Vontae Davis. Morgan also blocked two consecutive punts by Jared Bosch, who is still learning to take fewer steps before punting.

*A number of players were timed on how quickly they could race from a down position to the punter. Marques Wilkins, Justin Sanders, Antonio Steele, Bo Flowers and Drew McMahon each had impressive individual efforts. But the fastest single time (1.39 seconds) belonged to freshman Martez Wilson. The heralded Wilson wasn't nearly that fast on his other efforts, but it showed his unlimited potential.

*Antonio Steele was all over the field from his weakside linebacker position. He made a tackle behind the line and also intercepted a pass from Eddie McGee. He is another of many examples of how a year's experience can make a top athlete play significantly faster and better.

* Michael Hoomanawanui could eventually become the best combination of blocking and pass-catching tight end the Illini have had in a long time. Of course, tight end has been a weak position at Illinois for several years now. But Michael could be something special.

* Sam Carson and Justin Harrison both made aggressive pass breakups. Harrison, a senior and on and off starter for four years now, is a key member of the secondary. And freshman Nathan Bussey made a nice interception from his free safety position on a ball tipped off the outstretched hands of Greg McClendon.

* In the second session, receivers Will Judson, Marques Wilkins and McClendon all showed good potential with their receiving. Judson and Wilkins are not real tall, but they are starting to become reliable. And McClendon is perhaps the tallest wide receiver and is due for some good days after sitting out most of the last two years with injuries.

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