Duvalt Shines Again In Latest Spring Practice

A large number of high school coaches began descending on Champaign-Urbana as the Fighting Illini held another rousing practice Thursday on the practice field East of Memorial Stadium. Even without full pads, there was plenty of action.

2008 signees Hubie Graham and Tyler Sands are visiting from Pennsylvania, and they brought along Graham's high school teammate Eric Shrive to check out the school and football program. Shrive is a highly recruited offensive tackle who is an upcoming senior at West Scranton high school.

The offensive line is in a state of flux right now. With Jon Asamoah and Ryan McDonald not practicing and Ryan Palmer leaving early, probably for a school-related purpose, redshirt freshman Craig Wilson was seen various times at three positions. Normally a left tackle, Craig also played right guard and right tackle. Freshman Graham Pocic was given most of the first team reps at Asamoah's right guard slot.

The defensive line continues to take advantage of the situation, although they would give any offensive line problems. First string defensive tackles Dave Lindquist and Sirod Williams continue to play ahead of rising stars Josh Brent and D'Angelo McCray. Williams is underrated as he is 290 pounds of solid muscle and has one of the quickest pair of feet on the team.

McCray still favors his surgically repaired leg and was seen receiving some additional sprint work after practice to strengthen its endurance. But he is getting in on the action, and his explosiveness is obvious. One drill where offensive linemen were practicing their pulling and a defensive lineman was learning how best to respond proved this decisively. The 330 pound McCray rammed into the 330 pound Jack Cornell and sent him flying backward onto the ground.

Redshirt freshman Daryle Ballew has transformed his body and is much improved. He isn't flashy, but he is a hard worker and never gives up. Anterio Jackson has muscled up into the 270 pound range and provides additional depth.

Possibly the quickest defensive tackle of all is freshman Reggie Ellis. He looks small next to some of the other behemoths at a mere 289 pounds, but his great feet will get him playing time sooner rather than later. He just needs to learn all the complexities of the college game.

In fundamental drills, quarterback Eddie McGee was seen lining up in the backfield as a running back. He became an option on a sprintout pass pattern along with the tight end, receiver, and flanker from the other side. He dropped the one pass he was thrown, but giving McGee more options as a pass receiver will make it difficult for defenses to focus on him when he is in the lineup simultaneously with Juice Williams.

Safety Garrett Edwards also had to leave early, but he received a number of first team reps ahead of Bo Flowers before then. There were many personnel combinations employed for both the offense and defense in the 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 action, so depth charts are impossible to predict. But this was the first day where the lineups showed significant changes after yesterday's first full pad scrimmage.

The defense continued to harass the offense in the 11 on 11 drills. There would have been several sacks if permitted. But the offense also showed some improved play at times.

Most notable on this day was the play of receiver Chris Duvalt. He made at least four outstanding grabs of passes. He reached high for a 20 yard bullet from McGee early on. In red zone work, he made a great diving grab in the end zone between the frustrated Vontae Davis and Nathan Bussey, and he followed immediately with another fine grab over Marcus Thomas.

Coach Zook was moved to remark to the defense, "15's killin ya all." Duvalt later made another excellent catch, this time against Dere Hicks.

Rookie Fred Sykes continues to make his presence known. McGee moved up in the pocket to avoid a heavy rush and launched a long bomb to Sykes, who showed excellent body control as he altered direction and reached over his shoulder for the big gain.

Brian Gamble made a stretched-out grab of around 20 yards on a pass over the middle from Juice. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui continues to receive more pass opportunities, and he is proving reliable. And Jarred Fayson made another fine touchdown catch, as he had done twice yesterday.

The defense wasn't permitted to show its full strength on this day, but Doug Pilcher returned a Daniel Dufrene fumble for a touchdown. This is the second day in a row Dufrene fumbled after grabbing a swing pass, so this is something he will practice in the days ahead.

Vontae Davis had an athletic pass breakup on a pass intended for Jeff Cumberland. Nathan Bussey made an interception of a long McGee pass. And reserve linebacker Conor Gillen stuffed a pitch from McGee to Mikel LeShoure for no gain.

Anthony Santella continues to boom his punts, his two efforts being perfect spirals of long distance and good hang time. Kyle Yelton's one attempt was also a high spiral, although it may have been a couple yards short of Santella's efforts. Jared Bosch was unable to create a spiral in his one attempt, reducing the ball's distance as it got knocked down by a brisk wind.

Punt returns were not allowed, but the punt returner was permitted to make an initial move against the onrushing gunners. Duvalt caught one punt and made such an effective juke that Travon Bellamy fell to the ground grasping at thin air.

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