Illini Still Looking For Kicker in Two-a-Days

Another double session greeted the Illini football players today at Camp Rantoul. Heat and humidity returned for the first time in two weeks, a reminder that summer isn't over. But the players worked their way through it, knowing that Missouri game week begins in just five days.

Coach Zook believes his team is more advanced than last year's team.

"We're gonna be a better team this year than we were last year. We're a better team right now than we were last year. But we've still got a lot of things to work out."

One of those unresolved details is the placekicking. Field goals and extra points are still a three man race between Matt Brandabur, Matt Eller, and freshman Derek Dimke. Early in the evening session, Brandabur and Eller made two goals each, while Dimke was one of two.

Later during scrimmage work, Dimke made two field goals but hooked one and had one blocked. Eller made one and missed one while also converting an extra point. Dimke and Eller each kicked off close to the end zone.

Coack Zook discussed the kickers after practice.

"The kickers are still inconsistent. One minute they're good, and the next minute they're not. I was kind of hoping to get that solidified by now, but we've still got three days to go this week. We'll get that done. Protection wise, I think we're doing a good job on defense, but we need to get the ball up a little higher.

"Last year, I was worried about the punter and not the kicker. Now, I'm worried about the kicker and not the punter. Right now they're inconsistent. One of them is gonna have to step up and take it. I don't have to make a decision. It will work itself out eventually."

The freshman Dimke was the early favorite, but like all freshmen is up and down. Whether he wins the job for the Missouri game, he has a bright future.

"Dimke is gonna be a heck of a kicker," complimented Zook. "He has all of the tools, a live leg and all those things. He's got to do it consistently."

In contrast, quarterback Juice Williams has been a model of consistency this fall. And his post practice interviews show the benefit of maturity and confidence.

"We've been going against the same defense for 2 and 1/2 weeks," explains Williams. "It's starting to get boring. At the same time, we get a lot of work done. We're getting some production on the offensive side of the ball, and things are starting to come around pretty good."

Juice is approaching the 2008 season in a much better frame of mind than his first two at Illinois.

"Last year and especially the year before, I was a little scared that I wasn't ready yet. This year, I'm looking forward to that first game. I've got a good feel for what to do with the ball, so now I just have to go out there and execute. It's all second nature now."

As a reward for his hard work, Juice was permitted to rest his arm in the evening session so backups Eddie McGee and Jacob Charest could get some quality work in scrimmage action. McGee likely enjoyed his time with the first team offense, especially after running for his life last Saturday against the Illini's powerful first team defense.

While there was no tackling Tuesday, an energetic scrimmage dominated the evening session. McGee took the first team offense down for a touchdown on his first possession. He completed 8 of 10 passes for 55 yards in the series. Eddie hit Marquis Wilkins on a three yard touchdown pass. Daniel Dufrene, Arrelious Benn and Chris James each caught two balls during the drive.

The running game was stifled by the touch rule, preventing the extra yardage Illini ball carriers gain through second effort. But Dufrene had some good runs during that segment.

Charest faced a fired up first string defense on his first opportunity. Given three possessions, he was sacked by Brit Miller, Antonio James, and Dave Lindquist, and Derek Walker and Doug Pilcher shared another.

Freshman running back Mikel LeShoure gained 8 yards in two carries before linebacker Martez Wilson literally ran him over for a loss. Charest showed running speed with a nifty option scamper for around 15 yards later in the practice, but he continued to struggle otherwise.

Defensively, cornerbacks Tavon Wilson and Vontae Davis each broke up passes. Davis and safety Travon Bellamy each had tackles for loss. Jerry Brown got his big mitts on a McGee pass, stuffing it into the ground. Pilcher added another sack. And Benn had a nice punt return.

Coach Zook admits his charges are tired from all the heavy work, but he knows their enthusiasm and energy will increase in the near future.

"We've worked these guys awfully hard, and they're tired right now. When we get back home Thursday and Friday, we'll see a little bounce in their step. They're tired of running into each other. So we'll begin to give them a little look at Missouri, and that will give them some excitement right there."

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