Illini continue to add complexity to offense

Twelve practices down and three to go. The Fighting Illini football team practiced without full pads Tuesday as it continues to add wrinkles to its offensive and defensive schemes and fine-tune what it already knows. The offense showed improvement while the defense frustrated its coaches.

Illinois continued to install more of its playbook Tuesday as spring practice winds down. Among the new offensive variations, Eddie McGee practiced a package of plays designed specifically for his talents as a quarterback.

While McGee will remain at receiver and is a likely starter, he brings skills that can be utilized in a multiple offense like that being employed by offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. Ron Zook commented on the plan of action.

"Today we continued to add some things, which is fun. I think our staff is doing a great job of finding out exactly what our guys can do."

Petrino was pleased with the way the offense practiced.

"I think we've made some good strides at practice today. I think they understand a little bit and made a lot of big plays today. We've just got to keep working hard, keep grinding and keep improving."

Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning had an opposite reaction. Disappointed with the lethargy of the defense, he had every defensive player stand in a circle while jogging in place. Every time Koenning blew his whistle, the players had to do another up-down.

This continued for approximately 50 repetitions, and the players were nearly exhausted afterward. Koenning laid into them with specific examples of the day's failures. He apologized to media afterward for occasional colorful language, but it was obviously done for effect.

"We had a lot of concentration issues. Not the kind of effort that we expect. This was a day we tried to let the leaders go in there and try to spur them on instead of me running around going crazy."

In other news, Miami Thomas was back doing drills, including tackling practice, with the defense for the first time all spring. It was no doubt an uplifting feeling for Thomas to be back out there, although it appeared his knee tightened up on him later. Still, it gives him renewed hope he can be back to full health by fall.

Also, Russell Ellington was seen practicing with the tight ends. This is by no means a permanent switch but rather an experiment to see where he can help the team most. He was having trouble cracking the two-deep at linebacker, and he was a quarterback in high school.

He needs to learn how to block, but he appeared to understand route running. And he seemed to have good hands for pass receiving.

Elsewhere on the depth chart, Jack Cornell is continuing to rotate with Hugh Thornton at one guard spot while Randall Hunt mans the other. Jason Ford was working with the first team offense, with Mikel Leshoure backing him up. Leshoure appeared to be running without hindrance. Glenn Foster was running with the first team at defensive tackle.

Also, Tyler Sands appears to be more comfortable at guard, so he is running second string there while Jake Feldmeyer takes over as second string center. However, Sands might actually be the backup for Graham Pocic at center if needed.

A few other practice highlights follow:

* Whatever problems the defense had today, the defensive line continues to put its hands up in time to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. They've been successful with this all spring. Today, Clay Nurse stopped a Nathan Scheelhaase pass, and it may have been Akeem Spence who did the same to Jacob Charest.

* In a 7 on 7 drill, Steve Hull caught a long post route from Scheelhaase that went for around 40 yards.

* A.J. Jenkins made a leaping grab of a Nathan Scheelhaase pass in the end zone during redzone work.

* Jack Ramsey made a great grab in the corner of the end zone on a pass from Chandler Whitmer.

* Justin Lattimore made an excellent reception to account for another touchdown, again from Whitmer.

The Illini will have their last scrimmage prior to the spring game Wednesday. Media will not be invited, but we hope to have a report from the coaches and players afterward.

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