The Oklahoma Drill is always a team favorite and is used to signify a return to full pads. Football players become hungry for contact over the long winter months, and getting to hit someone is always a pleasure for them. The one-on-one battles between blocker and tackler were often intense, with occasional skirmishes between battlers. But it was all in good fun.
Not all the collisions were visible in the area reserved for media as the whole team plus visitors crowded around the action. But it was obvious offensive guard Hugh Thornton and defensive tackle Corey Liuget had good success during the drill.
Other highlights for the offense included Randall Hunt over Glenn Foster, A.J. Jenkins over Walt Aikens, Graham Pocic over Evan Frierson and Aaron Gress, Corey Lewis over Justin Staples, and Jake Feldmeyer over Akeem Spence. In addition, Jack Ramsey held an edge over Supo Sanni and Ryan Palmer pushed Russell Ellington aside.
Defensively, Daryle Ballew had multiple successes, first against Tyler Sands and later over Ryan Sedlacek. Whitney Mercilus also did well, moving aside Nate Swanson and Jeff Allen. The latter effort drew praise from teammates. Liuget overpowered Sands, and Glenn Foster outfought Shawn Afryl.
Both coordinators continue to show intensity and a willingness to get in the face of people not performing up to task. But they are also eager to reward good play. It is keeping the players on their toes and focused.
Jacob Charest and Nathan Scheelhaase both work with the first unit, but Scheelhaase got the first set of reps today. All three quarterbacks did some good things, but they also made mistakes. It is far too early to draw conclusions on who is performing best. A brief scrimmage Saturday may prove beneficial in that regard.
Scheelhaase had two quick runs on scrambles, showing off his speed. He also made one pass that was especially noteworthy. With the strong wind at his back, he lofted a touch pass down the sidelines into the arms of Jack Ramsey just over the outstretched arms of defender Pat Nixon-Youman.
Freshman Chandler Whitmer had some good passes as well, his best possibly being a long pass that hit Ramesy perfectly. Charest did some good things as well. He seemed to be confident in the pocket and hit some short tosses to keep the chains moving. But he threw another interception, this time right at middle linebacker Martez Wilson.
Other highlights included Frierson penetrating into the backfield and running down Mikel Leshoure on a sweep attempt. Running back Justin Green showed his blazing speed several times. He showed a quick outside move that freed him from a defender's grasp on one impressive play. And JC transfer safety Trulon Henry broke up the last pass of the day as he leapt toward the sideline.
Illinois coach Ron Zook is pleased with Henry so far.
"It's a little different for him right now. But I would hope he's gonna be a contributor. He's got a great attitude, he's great in the locker room. He's an older guy. He's made some mistakes and learned from them. He can help these new guys. He can be a mentor in the locker room as well.
"I think he's pretty athletic. He can run, he's tough. Like all of them, their minds are thinking. We're throwing a lot at them, so it has a tendency to slow him down a little bit. I don't think speed or athleticism is an issue with him."
Illini tackle signee Michael Heitz took in the action, as did Illini grads Arrelious Benn and Jon Asamoah. In addition, there were a dozen or so prospects in attendance today, with more expected tomorrow for a Junior Day. Among those present were Tanner Crum from Mt. Carmel, C.J. Robbins from LaSalle-Peru, Minooka's Zack Colvin and Naperville North quarterback/athlete Matt LaCosse.