Illini Back in Action After Rare Day Off

The Fighting Illini football team began its third week at Camp Rantoul Monday. Players got back into rhythm slowly after a day off, and some were limited by bumps and bruises incurred during their hard-hitting scrimmage Saturday. But Coach Zook felt they pushed through it well.

"When we first came out, it was a little sluggish," said Zook after practice. "I thought we got going a little bit. It was a pretty good practice. We have to give them a day off anyway, and they need a day away from it.

"They were a little sluggish in the weight room this morning, but their strength levels were good. As we get ready to get out of here, their energy level will go back up."

There were a number of walking wounded, and some players were withheld from practice. But there was some good news on that front as well. Starting left tackle Xavier Fulton was back doing all drills, shoring up a weak spot on the line. And cornerback Miami Thomas made some good plays as he began practicing again with a harness to protect his damaged shoulder.

Will Davis was the most important new injury to report. He sprained his ankle early in the Saturday scrimmage and didn't practice today, but Coach Zook didn't expect Will to miss much practice time.

"Will Davis has a sprained ankle, and we just kept him in to work on him and make sure he's right. But I don't think it's anything serious."

Others who missed practice included tight end Tom Sullivan, defensive end Doug Pilcher, and safety Donsay Hardeman. All but Sullivan were dressed but didn't participate.

Eddie McGee missed the first part of practice but returned. Running backs Daniel Dufrene and Troy Pollard did some things but not the group drills. And linebacker Rodney Pittman appeared to injure a groin muscle during practice but continued to play despite stiffness.

This may sound like a long injury list, but it is normal for this time of year. In fact, Coach Zook is pleased with the overall health of his squad.

"We're very fortunate. Jeff Cumberland's the only guy that, if we had a game today, probably wouldn't be able to go (besides Sirod Williams who's already lost for the year)."

Safety Brian Gamble and offensive tackle Marc Jackson missed another day of practice as well. Coach Zook was uncertain regarding Gamble's status on the team.

"I don't know. He had a meeting back on campus this afternoon. And he's been hampered by a hamstring anyway. He yanked a hamstring this summer, and it hasn't come back the way we thought it would. He's not going to be ready whatever happens. He's still on the team, as of right now."

Zook would not elaborate further.

The placekicking job is still up for grabs between Matt Brandabur, Matt Eller, and freshman Derek Dimke. Each kicked two balls between the uprights from 30 yards away with a heavy rush, although one of Dimke's boots was sailing left and might have missed from a longer distance. They all have ability and good legs, but consistency will likely be the deciding factor there.

Quarterback Juice Williams continues to show excellent completion percentages with his passes. In a combination of 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 situations, he completed 22 of 31 passes and had one catchable ball dropped.

The only down side on his day was two interceptions. One ball went straight into the bread basket of safety Bo Flowers. And the other was on target, but cornerback broke past receiver Chris Duvalt to pop the ball back where it came. Linebacker Martez Wilson was the ultimate beneficiary.

Freshman Jacob Charest had mixed results working with the second team in McGee's early absence. Jacob completed only 4 of 13 passes, although three catchable balls were dropped. Eddie completed four of his eight throws with one drop once he joined his teammates.

Charest hadn't had much background running an option in high school, but he is a quick learner. He set up running back Mikel LeShoure for a quick outside pitch after faking to the fullback and then luring defenders with a step into the line. It was perfectly timed.

Arrelious Benn was again a popular receiver. But Chris James and Chris Duvalt also were involved, Duvalt showing his quick feet by landing in bounds on a difficult sideline catch.

And the Illini continue to find tight ends in the passing game as both Michael Hoomanawanui and Hubie Graham made nice catches. Freshman Cordale Scott made an excellent grab in the end zone on a pass from McGee. His tall stature is easy for quarterbacks to find.

Even though there was no tackling, the defense still rose up to make impressive plays frequently. Miami Thomas reminded those present of his value to the defensive backfield by breaking up one pass and dropping a sure interception.

Vontae Davis was dominant at times. Besides setting up Martez for the interception, he ran Duvalt out of bounds to neutralize a sideline pass , and he caught Benn behind the line on a reverse. Strong defensive plays were also turned in by Russell Ellington, Tavon Wilson, Supo Sanni, Dustin Jefferson, Nate Palmer, Glenn Foster, and Bryson Whalen.

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