Illini Continue Preparations On 2nd Day

The weather cooperated, cooling the East practice field of Memorial Stadium for the Fighting Illini's split practices Friday. The Illini continue to install their offense and defense at a rapid rate, and the players are doing reasonably well keeping up. There's one more day of split sessions tomorrow morning before the team moves to Camp Rantoul.

Illinois head coach Ron Zook spoke in positive terms about the second day of fall practice.

"Overall there's improvement, and that's what we've got to continue to do. The weather was a little cooler today, so even for the first group there were no heat issues like the first group did yesterday."

There was no highly significant event on the day, meaning there were no injuries or other traumas to disrupt the teaching and learning as the Illini incorporate newcomers into the group and prepare for an intense two weeks at Camp Rantoul. Zook and his staff were able to do a lot of teaching and evaluating.

"We make observations on every play, every period. But you don't want to get too high or too low too early, especially with the young guys. You've got a pretty good feel for the guys that have been around here awhile. But everybody's evaluating every day. Who's doing what, who's getting better, who we maybe have to push a little bit."

Illinois coaches install their entire offensive and defensive packages before going back and working on individual aspects.

"We've got the philosophy of, 'Throw it all at the wall and then come back and throw it on again and see what sticks.' There's probably at least as much offense and defense in the first two days as you would for a whole game plan. But that forces them to think, it forces them to study. There's different ways of doing it, but that's how we've always done it."

Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning continues to be pleased with the overall team readiness.

"They're pretty good. You can tell they've done a lot of work over the summer. We've got more stuff in now than we will have for any one game plan."

Koenning and Zook share the same philosophy on how best to teach a football team. There is some science to the style.

"They say the best way to learn is spaced repetition. So we're trying to space out the repetitions we give for stuff. Hopefully they'll all understand the concepts that way."

It is difficult to evaluate the defense when it is unable to hit. Beginning Tuesday, that will change as the Illini don pads for the first time. In contrast, the offense shows its assets and liabilities whether there's hitting or not. Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino was disappointed in one set of his receivers today.

"The first group (receivers) worked hard and had a very good practice, and the second group didn't have a very good practice. It was definitely split. It's getting open and making plays as a whole group. Yesterday I was really excited about both groups."

There is talent and depth at the receiver positions. Jarred Fayson, A.J. Jenkins and Eddie McGee are the likely first teamers at this point, backed up by the noticeably improved Jack Ramsey, Fred Sykes and Steve Hull. But there are also four promising freshmen.

For the second day in a row, skinny Ryan Lankford made a play with his speed. He caught a long corner post bomb from Chandler Whitmer and then put on an extra burst to fly by safety Ean Days after the catch. Darius Millines is almost as fast, and he continues to show an extra gear when in need of catching up to an errant toss.

Spencer Harris probably has the most advanced route running skills. Petrino knew what he was getting when recruiting the Arkansas receiver. And tall Chesapeake Bay star Anthony Williams made a two-handed grab over his head on a long sideline toss from Whitmer. He sped into the end zone without competition. Petrino said one or more may earn playing time.

"They've been playmakers. They're going out there and getting after it and been doing a good job. You've got to be careful about getting too excited about someone real early, or real down on someone too early, especially when they're freshmen.

"We'll kind of let the rest of this week play out, see how they do. If they continue to make plays like they're doing right now, it's a really exciting group."

Nathan Scheelhaase passed extremely well yesterday, but he missed the mark a couple times today. On one, his pass was bobbled by walkon Tim Russell, and linebacker Evan Frierson intercepted. Later, cornerback Antonio Gully intercepted a long sideling bome and had a lengthy return.

Still, it is refreshing to observe the high completion percentage of all three quarterbacks. Double sessions conclude with a Saturday morning practice.

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