Illini Has Spirited Workout

The Fighting Illini football team continued working on their own development while doing some initial preparations for Missouri during practice Thursday. After a little sluggishness Wednesday at times, practice tempo picked up considerably Thursday.

"Tonight I thought was the first time they had their energy back (since Camp Rantoul)," said Coach Ron Zook. "Yesterday, the practice was good but they were a little flat. That's to be expected with school and everything. They didn't have near the energy, but today it came back."

Practices this week are really a continuation of fall camp, so the emphasis continues to be the improvement of the team. The work on Missouri was just a brief introduction and will not be continued until game week beginning next Monday. Coach Zook explained the main reason for the early peek at Mizzou.

"Anytime you do new things, you change the monotony of practice. When you have 20 or so practices and do the same things over and over again, I think the players need a change. Tomorrow we'll go back to our normal stuff."

Special teams continued to get emphasis. Jason Reda had a tremendous opportunity to practice field goals with a strong side wind, the first significant wind of the fall. The farther back he goes from the goal posts, the more he has to start the kick to the side the wind is from to allow for side movement the wind causes. Reda made all but a couple of his field goals, and his last split the uprights from over 40 yards with plenty to spare.

Punters continue to battle for the starter's job, and each also got some practice with a side wind. If they don't start their punts to the side the wind is coming from, they run the risk of seeing the ball blown out of bounds. This is just one more variable that creates inconsistency with young players, but all three punters had good moments, even when they punted into the wind.

Coach Zook described the punting competition.

"I think there's always competition for certain jobs. I still haven't decided who the punter is going to be. I thought I would have it done by now. We had a little saying in the NFL, it's always good to have a little fear for your job."

The kick coverage team practiced running downfield while staying in assigned lanes. They had to sidestep one blocker and then take on a second one, keeping position there until they could see which path the kick returner would take and then exploding for the tackle.

The kick coverage team should be pretty good this year. At least, there is a great deal of speed. Antonio Steele is excited about the unit.

"We have some fast guys on that unit. We've got Joe Morgan, who's incredible on the kickoff team. He's blazing. Now we have Martez (Wilson), he's blazing too. And Brian Gamble. They switched him to offense. He helps them out a lot because he's a physical guy."

The receivers do some one-on-one work with defensive backs nearly every day. On this day, notable action included Kyle Hudson juking Dere Hicks for an open pass on the sideline; DaJuan Warren gaining good separation over Drew McMahon with a quick move over the middle; and Jacob Willis running past Antonio Gully to haul in a long pass from Phil Haig.

Hudson described the development of the receiving corps after practice.

"I think we're doing a good job of coming out and working on something to get better. We always want to do our best, but there's a little change around here. We're working hard, and our goal is to win as many games as possible. That's what we're trying to accomplish when we come out here to practice everyday, so we can win those games.

"We're working on catching the ball better this year. We've been on the jugs (a passing machine) a lot and getting comfortable on the routes. Also, the timing with the quarterbacks is something we've worked on a whole lot in the summer and up to now, and I think that's going real well."

The offensive and defensive linemen continue to square off during daily practices. The offensive linemen work one-on-one with the defensive men across from them on blocking for specific plays, and the d-linemen are supposed to figure out how to neutralize those blocks. These guys are probably tired of facing each other as they know each others' strengths and weaknesses.

Many times, no one gains an advantage in these struggles between huge but athletic men. Jon Asamoah usually does a good job of withstanding defenders' charges, although Derek Walker did get to him once. Anterio Jackson made a move left and then slapped Eric Block hard with his right hand to push him aside. Sirod WIlliams ran over Jack Cornell one time. And freshman Josh Brent simply exploded once on Brandon Jordan and forced him back into the quarterback, although Jordan did a much better job the second time.

Coach Zook is still keeping the players relaxed so they will not get too high too quickly for the start of the season a week from Saturday. He will build that up gradually.

"I don't think we have to worry about them getting too high. As the week builds, we will gradually get into it. I think it will be something every one of them will enjoy."

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