Another Brisk Practice Leading To Spring Game

The Fighting Illini football team completed its 12th spring practice in the Irwin indoor practice facility Tuesday. Strong winds and wet grounds drove the team inside, but the dreary day didn't dampen spirits. Both the offense and defense continued to play with an intensity and purpose that is refreshing.

The day's practice began with field goals. Illinois placekickers Matt Eller and Derek Dimke each had four shots against a full contact rush. Each made three. Eller made his attempts from 20, 32 and 42 yards out while pushing another 42 yarder a little to the right.

Dimke made shots from 32 and 37 before missing from 43 yards out on what appeared to be either a bad snap or poor hold. Given a second chance, he nailed a 43 yarder with a kick as high and far as any Eller has made. Eller is the leader, but Dimke is definitely improving. Anthony Santella held for Eller, while Chris James held for Dimke.

Coach Ron Zook is not concerned about the placekicking despite some lapses recently.

"I know everybody's concerned about the kicking, but I don't worry so much about it. Those guys will be all right. Both of them can kick. Matt has done it in the heat of battle. He's out of whack a little bit right now, but that's not a concern of mine. He'll get it back."

Quarterback Eddie McGee spent the day with the receivers. He was receiving cross-training for a dual role when fall games begin. And he was replacing receiver Jarred Fayson, hobbled at the moment by a sprained foot. Zook says Fayson has no major damage and should be fine in 3-4 weeks. But he will miss the spring game.

The linebackers were given a chance to tackle the Illini running backs in a one-on-one drill. The running back was supposed to power through the tackle if possible. Martez Wilson blew up Daniel Dufrene on one sortie. But the backs had some good results as well.

Jason Ford had a couple powerful runs. On one play, he ran into Evan Friersen and knocked him backward. On another, he ran to his left and into Martez, then spun back to his right to gain ground.

Juice Williams and Jacob Charest shared the quarterbacking duties with McGee at receiver. Both had consistent success in 7 on 7 work, proving how much easier it is to find open receivers when there are no linemen running down your throat.

Williams was 6 for 7 in one segment. He hit Hubie Graham, A.J. Jenkins, and Arrelious Benn and McGee twice each. His only incompletion was the result of an excellent defensive play by Travon Bellamy.

Charest was also 6 for 7. Jake hit five different receivers, including Troy Pollard, Fred Sykes, Chris Duvalt, Cordale Scott and Jack Ramsey twice. Tavon Wilson made a good play to break up Charest's other throw.

Martez Wilson continued his fine play during later scrimmage action. On consecutive plays, he broke up a pass intended for Graham, and then he snuffed out a sweep for little or no gain. In another series, he combined with Ian Thomas to throw Ford for a loss. Wilson seems to be getting a lot of praise from his teammates lately.

Juice continued his accuracy late in the practice, completing a touchdown toss to Graham. And he concluded a 2-minute drill with a long touchdown bomb to Benn down the sideline. Safety Garrett Edwards thwarted Charest's attempt at 2 minute offense by intercepting his pass.

The Illini will do some scrimmage work Wednesday, their last hitting before the spring game Saturday. Mike White and a number of his former Illinois players from the 1980's will celebrate a reunion as part of the festivities.

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