Illini Scrimmage In Front Of Recruits

A light snow failed to disrupt Illini football practice as they continued to prepare for the Rose Bowl in their indoor facility Saturday. It was another hard-hitting day as visiting recruits were treated to some scrimmage action. The workout included the famous Oklahoma drill, and there were some gargantuan battles between offensive and defensive linemen, and between linebackers and fullbacks.

A few offensive players who made a statement on their blocks included Jon Asamoah over Dave Lindquist, Brandon Jordan over Mike Ware, Mark Jackson over Derek Walker, and Xavier Fulton over Doug Pilcher. No one pancaked their opponent, but they prevented the defender from tackling the running back.

Defensively, it was Chris Norwell over Eric Block, Josh Brent over Mike Nabolotny, Antonio James over Craig Wilson, D'Angelo McCray over Mike Garrity, Jerry Brown over Akim Millington, Daryle Ballew over Cole Knuth, Sirod Williams over Randall Hunt, and Ian Thomas over Jack Cornell. Thomas made up for a 90 pound weight differential with strength, determination and quickness.

In scrimmage action, the second string defense stopped the number one offense short of the goal line on their first possession. On fourth and one inside the five yard line, Martez Wilson diagnosed a swing pass and tackled Rashard Mendenhall for a three yard loss.

Jason Reda kicked a 47 yard field goal to help the second string offense score against the first team defense in a 2-minute drill. Another highlight of the scrimmage was a long down-and-out completion from Juice Williams to Frank Lenti. Williams continues to show better accuracy and timing on his long pass patterns.

Jason Willis made a great one hand grab of an Eddie McGee pass, his third such catch in two days. Willis also broke three tackles to gain extra yardage against the second team defense on another catch. Willis may be a senior preparing for his final game, but he continues to show signs of improvement.

J. Leman and Antonio Steele wiped out Walter Mendenhall on a fourth and short situation. Jerry Brown tackled Arrelious Benn for a big loss on a reverse. And Marcus Thomas and his second string teammates denied Rashard Mendenhall on another fourth and one play. Thomas knifed in from his corner spot and was the first to contact Rashard in the backfield. Thomas continues to improve daily.

The Illini have been practicing their second team place kicks lately, so it is possible to see who has first crack at replacing the senior trio of Jason Reda, Kyle Knezetic and Frank Lenti. Matt Brandabur and Matt Elder are in a real battle for the placekicking chores, and each shows potential but also inconsistency at this point. Walkon Tad Keely has been groomed all year to replace Knezetic, and he looks good in the role. And backup punter Jared Bosch was holding on placements.

Seven recruiting prospects continued their weekend visits by taking in the practice. Some other prospects and commitments were their on their own to observe. Commitments Supo Sanni and Russell Ellington showed up, and Thornton High School coach Bill Mosel brought some of his top juniors.

J Leman was asked his impression of upcoming Rose Bowl opponent Southern California after practice.

"They're a great, balanced team, the most balanced we've faced. They are balanced between running and throwing the ball, with great athletes all over the place. I just think it's an honor to play USC. It is a program that, as Illinois grows, we aspire to be like them.

"They're a national target year in and year out, and they're always in a BCS bowl. So we want to be like them, and we have to play the best to be the best."

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