Illini Football Team Practices Well In Rain

The Illini football team held its second practice on Memorial Stadium's field as a light rain continued throughout both sessions. But the moisture didn't hamper play or reduce the team's enthusiasm. One more day of split practices in Champaign Saturday, and it's off to Camp Rantoul for an intense two weeks preparing for the upcoming season.

Ron Zook continues to be pleased with what he's seen in the Illinois football team thus far.

"It went all right. I thought it was a great day. The intensity, enthusiasm and competitiveness was great. The leadership was great. We've just got to keep going."

Football is an outdoor activity, so there was no thought to practicing inside.

"It might rain the first game (actually second since the Missouri game is inside the Edward Jones Dome)," Zook reminds. "As long as it's light, we're gonna work outside. It's like wet ball drills. I think it's good you do that because it's stuff you're gonna see."

There was no hitting, so it is especially hard to evaluate the offensive and defensive linemen. But the 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills brought out some interesting activity.

Juice Williams, Eddie McGee, Jacob Charest and Nathan Scheelhaase all had good moments with passing accuracy and showed only minimal problems with the wet ball. And the receivers all showed well at one time or another. There were a few drops, but overall they continue to demonstrate they are one of the strengths of the team.

Both days now, McGee seemed more accurate than ever. He demonstrated excellent touch on long balls and mostly hit his men in stride. And his ball had a tighter spiral than the past. He is relaxed, sure of himself, and maturing nicely.

Fred Sykes is often overlooked when compared with some of the other exciting receivers, but he is showing more quickness, more definitive cuts and better overall play than last fall. His playing time as a freshman has given him a higher confidence level.

It was good to see several defensive backs challenge the receivers. Travon Bellamy made a nice sideline interception on an errant Williams toss. Donsay Hardeman grabbed a long bomb from Williams. Freshman Walter Aikens grabbed a McGee toss. Linebacker Ian Thomas broke up a Scheelhaase pass intended for Steve Hull.

The defensive back with the most impressive display of pass protection was Miami Thomas. After sitting out last year with knee and shoulder surgeries, Thomas reminded how much he was missed last year. He broke up passes intended for Jarred Fayson and Cordale Scott and should have intercepted the second one. And he intercepted McGee twice, with one intended for Arrelious Benn.

Afterwards, Zook was cautious in his praise of Miami Thomas. But he had to be pleased with what he saw.

"He'll take awhile to get the rust off, but he was competing out there. We think he's got a chance to be a good player."

Doug Pilcher, Whitney Mercilus, Corey Liuget, Clay Nurse and Rahkeem Smith all put good pressure on the quarterbacks in 11 on 11 work. Freshman defensive tackle Lendale Buckner showed surprising quickness despite his massive 340 pound frame.

Anthony Santella boomed several high spirals in punting drills. If he can continue showing that effort consistently, his statistics will be improved this year. Backup Kyle Yelton still shanks a punt or two, but one of his kicks was the highest and longest of the day.


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