A cold, blustery wind greeted Illinois players and coaches within Memorial Stadium Tuesday. While Josh Brent and former players Brit Miller and Dave Lindquist looked on, the Illini went through a rugged practice with more hitting than usual for a Tuesday.
There were some personnel developments of note. Jeff Allen was practicing with the first unit at left tackle, and Corey Lewis labored with the second string at right tackle behind Ryan Palmer. The Illini need to develop depth at both tackle spots, so this is likely a cross-training venture. Of course, should both players show acumen at their new spots, more permanent changes are possible in the future.
With second string center Tyler Sands tentative with a bruised thigh, Mike Garrity snapped the ball for the second unit. Continuing issues with both direct snaps and shotgun snaps for the reserves could be part of the motivation for the change as well.
Sirod Williams is getting more practice reps at defensive tackle. He isn't participating in full contact yet, but he is doing most everything else. Miami Thomas and Donsay Hardeman were both wearing red shirts and did some defensive back drills. They also won't have any contact this spring, but seeing them participate was encouraging. And Hardeman continues to be a passionate leader on the sidelines.
Supo Sanni appeared to pull a hamstring at Oak Park, but he was practicing full go Tuesday. Troy Pollard isn't quite back to full speed after a knee strain, but he is getting closer. He did some kickoff return work, although it was not at full speed. Starting cornerback Dere Hicks spent some time as a nickel back while Tavon Wilson and Travon Bellamy held down the cornerback spots for the 1st string.
Walkon quarterbacks Sean Anderson and Ed Viliunas exchanged red shirts for white as they were designated cannon fodder for a hard-hitting segment. It is difficult to evaluate defensive play when the players must slow up or stifle their aggressiveness while approaching the quarterbacks.
But Anderson and Viliunas were fair game on this day. The full contact seemed to inspire the defense. Among the highlights of this segment, safety Garrett Edwards had a big hit on Daniel Dufrene. Defensive end Glenn Foster stuffed an option for no gain. And Sanni grabbed an interception from Anderson off a tip of a high pass.
Offensive highlights in later scrimmage work included the following:
* Juice rolled to his left and hit A.J. Jenkins for a touchdown.
* In a 2 minute drill, Juice threw a perfect strike to Jarred Fayson between defenders Sanni and Pat Nixon-Youman.
* Juice completed his day with a 10 yard scamper for the score.
Defensively, there were several notable plays.
* Dere Hicks grabbed an interception of a pass tipped by a linebacker.
* Defensive end Clay Nurse batted down a Juice pass at the line.
* Nixon-Youman read a Juice pass perfectly and deflected and nearly intercepted it.
* Safety Ashante Williams made a beautiful interception on a tipped pass while keeping both feet in bounds in the back of the end zone.
Coaches and players are keeping the intensity up in these practices by pitting defense vs. offense. The defense yells and screams to encourage teammates on the field, while the offense celebrates its successes. This passion was missing at times last fall but should produce an aggressive, competitive product on the field if it continues.