Illini Back on the Practice Field

The Illini football team was back on the football field last weekend after Thanksgiving break. Even before knowing they were headed to the Rose Bowl, they were back in their indoor practice facility as early as Saturday. We begin a series of reports from those workouts, beginning with the Saturday workout.

Two more official visitors were present Saturday. Four star offensive lineman Dan Hoch, a 6'-6", 320 offensive lineman from Harlan, Iowa, spent most of the morning watching the offensive linemen with Illini commitment Graham Pocic. And Ohio defensive lineman Whitney Mercilus spent his time watching Tom Sims' crew go through their paces. They were joined by Florida transfer candidate Jarrod Fayson, a top receiver prospect.

The offense shows the effects of the layoff as timing was a little off at times. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley discussed timing issues after practice.

"Right now, we're a little bit behind. So we have to get those guys back out there, get them throwing the ball and get that timing and rhythm we need to have. In the passing game is where we see most of the timing issues."

Locksley is not overly concerned at this time because there are still many practices to go. And there were some benefits to the layoff.

"Any time you go without your normal routine for a week, it helps to get you healthy and have fresh legs. But we have to keep working. We have a little more time obviously to get that timing back. It's a long grind of a season. We don't get the bye week, so it's good we had the week off. It definitely gave those guys the chance to rejuvenate and get their legs back a little bit. It's a long year."

Locksley isn't planning to introduce major additions or changes to the offense during bowl preparations.

"I don't know if you add things. It goes back to your game plan. We need to keep this thing as routine as possible. The bowl practices gives us 15 or maybe 20 more practices with our young guys. It lets you go back and hit the fundamental things you need. We're always going to have a few wrinkles in the game plan, but we're not going to add to the offense just because we have the time to do it."

Locksley is please to have a chance to work with the youngsters who have toiled on the scout team during the season.

"The big thing with those guys is fundamentals. You've got plenty of time to get them schemed to play next season. We're looking to see how they progress with fundamentals and getting bigger, stronger, and faster. These extra practices gives us a chance to incorporate them back into our base schemes.

"When we learn who we play, we'll get in our game prep mode. Right now, these last few practices are opportunities to get better. But once we know where we're going and who we're playing, it will give us a more clear direction."

Illini coaches are not allowed to discuss recruiting specifics, and Coach Locksley was typically humble and vague when responding on the value of the successful season to the recruiting effort.

"I think people know who we are, but we're still going to fight the battles we fought here. We have a great recruiting staff here, led by our head coach Zook. We've always had the opportunity to get in the door, but the recognition and all the media attention with the season we've had helps us open doors a little further away from home."

The Illini appear to be working hard on finding quality skill people to add to the offense's firepower. No matter how many they have, they always hunger for more.

"Right now, defenses are scaring me," reminds Locksley. "We've got a long way to go. We didn't have two good days on offense, but we need to continue to work. Recruiting hopefully will give us a few more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball that we need to go get."

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