Enthusiam Emanates From Illini Practice

The Fighting Illini football team held a rousing practice without full pads on the East practice fields Friday in preparation for Saturday's controlled scrimmage. Intensity was high on both sides of the ball. Emphasis was placed on running plays in preparation for the scrimmage.

Illinois football coach Ron Zook was pleased with Friday's practice as both offense and defense showed intensity and focus throughout. All the work on team building, togetherness, and competing every second of every play appears to be paying off. It appeared the defense may have held the upper hand and was frequently seen swarming to the ball.

Zook found out today that freshman defensive tackle Lendale Buckner was arrested for residential burglary. Buckner was suspended indefinitely.

"That's kind of what we do," Zook explains. "They know the deal with me about negative publicity and how it reflects on the football program and our families. I don't know everything. I just found out about it this afternoon."

Buckner is still on the team as Zook does not yet know the facts of the case. Buckner practiced the first day of spring but has been concentrating on academics since.

A number of high school prospects continue to show up each day of practice on unofficial visits. Among those in attendance Friday was Justin DuVernois, a punter with an Illini scholarship offer from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Alphonso Allen, a receiver/defensive end from Oberlin, Ohio, made the trip and renewed acquaintences with Illini offensive guard Hugh Thornton.

As occurs each day, the linemen paired up for one-on-one battles. The most intriguing defensive victories included tackle Glenn Foster spinning free of Tyler Sands; end Tim Kynard drawing praise from his cohorts for an easy triumph over Ryan Palmer; tackle Corey Liuget outquicking Graham Pocic; and end Justin Staples bull-rushing and then pancaking Nate Swanson.

In 7 on 7 action, a Nathan Scheelhaase pass tipped off the hands of Eddie McGee into the waiting arms of Travon Bellamy. However, much of the day was devoted to 11 on 11.

Offensively, Troy Pollard showed his quickness in gaining good yardage a couple times. Fred Sykes caught a long sideline bomb from Jacob Charest for a touchdown. Charest later scrambled to avoid a strong rush and hit a come-backer to Eddie McGee for a 20 yard gain. And Chandler Whitmer connected with Chris James, who made a leaping grab.

In later action, A.J. Jenkins made a good grab of a Scheelhaase toss in traffic; Scheelhaase showed his arm strength with a pass to Sykes covering around 40 yards, with Sykes running the remaining 25 yards to paydirt; and Scheelhaase scrambled to the wide side of the field and found McGee for a short gain before being run out of bounds.

However, the defense had more than its share of success on this day. Corey Liuget, Whitney Mercilus and various other defenders put tremendous pressure on the quarterbacks all day. On consecutive plays, Clay Nurse batted down a Scheelhaase pass and then sacked him. Daryle Ballew tackled Whitmer for a loss.

Safety Walt Aikens caught a tipped pass from Scheelhaase. Supo Sanni broke up a Scheelhaase pass. And Charest was sacked twice.

Both offense and defense have good days and bad. Today, the defense had plenty of reason to brag. Tomorrow may be a different story. The Saturday practice begins at 9:40am with the scrimmage slated from 10:15am to noon. It is open to the public. Zook is looking forward to it.

"We'll get after it. It will be very similar to last week. We want to see more of what we had out here today. We want to make improvements and get better."


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