Illini Back in Action After Scrimmage

Football players are always stiff and sore the day after a big scrimmage or game, and Tuesday's practice at Camp Rantoul was no exception. The Illini coaches focused on fundamentals without hitting, trying to help the team work through its bruises while keeping its motivation high.

Coach Ron Zook eluded to this reality after the Tuesday practice.

"Today was a little sluggish, but they pushed through it. The coaches had to get them going a little bit more, but that's normal."

The Illini have not done much hitting besides the scrimmage, but Zook doesn't want to burn them out before the season begins.

"We try to get them into hitting shape slowly, so it doesn't take so much of a toll on you."

Running back Troy Pollard was limping with a sprained ankle, so he spent his day with the Strength & Conditioning staff. Xavier Fulton was back at practice despite a leg injury last evening. He participated in everything except the team drills, so he should recover rapidly.

It was obvious last evening the Illini need to develop depth at the offensive tackle spots. The defensive linemen are really good, but they flew past some of the reserves like they were standing still. So some time was spent today testing several linemen at both right and left tackle, to see who could hold up best against the likes of Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher, Clay Nurse, and Jerry Brown.

Present right tackle starter Ryan Palmer was tested at left tackle and struggled. Freshman Graham Pocic seemed more comfortable at a guard spot than right tackle, but even there he struggled at times. Randall Hunt, who was the starting left tackle today replacing Fulton, seemed to do the best of the group.

Marc Jackson, now able to work in full pads, was given a chance to see what he could do. Despite some rustiness, he showed potential at both tackle and guard. Freshman Corey Lewis did surprisingly well holding off Pilcher once. And fellow freshman Jeff Allen took care of rookie Whitney Mercilus near the end of the session. It is still a work in progress.

The offensive tackles used bungee cords to improve their pass blocking strength and technique. Two tackles would tie a cord between them, and one would hold steady while the other retreated in his pass blocking crouch. The farther back he went, the tighter the cord resisted him.

Placekickers Derek Dimke and Matt Brandabur were the only two asked to kick during special teams practice. Dimke split the uprights from 20, 28 and 28 yards, while Brandabur made good from 32, 35 and 35 yards. Dimke was asked to finish the day's practice with a 40 yarder at the end of a 2 minute drill. He nailed that one also, with plenty of room to spare.

There were several periods of 7 on 7 and 11 on 11. The first week of Camp Rantoul, the pass offense was usually successful. But today, the defense asserted itself.

Travon Bellamy, Vontae Davis, Supo Sanni, Tavon Wilson, Pat Nixon and Dere Hicks (2) all broke in front of receivers to knock down passes. Hicks also had an interception, as did Donsay Hardeman. Ashante Williams made a beautiful leaping grab. And Vontae Davis went over big Jeff Cumberland to haul in an interception near the end of the day to snuff out a 2-minute drill.

The offense had its moments as well, just not as often as it has been accustomed. Arrelious Benn snared several Juice Williams passes, whose throws now seem to know exactly where they are going. Benn's best catch required him to fight off the physical Ashante Williams.

In addition, Cumberland made a great catch in the end zone with Hicks draped all over him. A. J. Jenkins grabbed a long pass from fellow freshman Jacob Charest.

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was busy in red zone action, snaring three tosses over the middle and bulling for extra yards. And freshman running back Jason Ford made a brilliant leaping grab over Bellamy on a pass from Eddie McGee near the back corner of the end zone.

Illini coaches were understandably tired today. They spent a great deal of their time last night and today breaking down film from the scrimmage. The good and bad plays are important teaching tools for the team.

"We spent maybe two hours and 45 minutes today studying the film, and that was after spending several hours on it last night. But you've got to do that. They're hearing you say it, but then when they see it on tape, it sometimes makes it a little better for them to understand.

"I still feel like we made a lot of progress. We're further ahead than while we've been here. We've just got to continue to improve and get better."

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