Illinois football players toiled in a warm morning sun Saturday, good preparation for the extreme heat predicted for Camp Rantoul beginning Monday. While it took awhile for the team to get going, there was still some good intensity. And coaches continued to install and perfect their offense and defense.
We will learn more about initial depth charts when the whole team convenes at the same time Monday. But some things became clear this week.
Nathan Scheelhaase is the clear-cut #1 quarterback at this time. He's not perfect, but he completes a high percentage of passes and has everyone's respect. Chandler Whitmer is ahead of newcomer Miles Osei, who's head is no doubt spinning with the complexities of the offense. Osei has a stronger arm and is faster than Whitmer but still has a long way to go to catch him.
Eddie McGee has received snaps at quarterback each day. However, his passing is rusty to say the least. McGee has mentally accepted receiver, so it would take at least one solid week of straight quarterback work for him to run a game plan should Scheelhaase go down with injury. He is an emergency backup, and he can run some wildcat stuff. But right now that's all.
Running back has the most quality depth on the team. Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford continue to lead the group. Each appears to be running hard. Troy Pollard is running with abandon, a sign he is free of injury. Justin Green's speed is back, and it is good to get him on the field to take advantage of his burst. And Bud Golden seems improved as well.
There are 11 receivers with a chance to play. Jarred Fayson, A.J. Jenkins and McGee are still first stringers, but they are being pushed by Jack Ramsey, Fred Sykes, Steve Hull and Chris James. Freshmen Ryan Lankford, Darius Millines, Spencer Harris and Anthony Williams have all done good things in their opportunities.
The tight end/H-Back slot is manned by players with a variety of skills. Zach Becker can both catch and block and is the leader. Justin Lattimore is a quality receiver, as is 6'-6" freshman Evan Wilson. London Davis a competent blocker, and Andrew Carter will do primarily that. New Jersey walkon Chris Willett, a transfer from Missouri, is also in the mix.
The offensive line remains intact after three days. Ryan Palmer is holding his own at the tackle opposite Jeff Allen. Hugh Thornton and Randall Hunt are the guards, and Graham Pocic is the center. Thornton could move to tackle, but that hasn't been necessary yet.
Jack Cornell and Tyler Sands are second string centers, and Sands doubles at guard. Jake Feldmeyer is another center candidate. Depth at tackle is an issue. Freshman Michael Heitz is in good shape and has impressed his teammates despite coming from a small high school.
Clay Nurse and Corey Liuget are fixtures on the defensive line. The other tackle spot is a battle between Glenn Foster and Akeem Spence, with Foster muscling up all summer and Spence becoming more trim. The most trim of all may be Liuget, who has reduced to 290 and is showing the maturity of a leader.
Whitney Mercilus continues to improve at end. Freshman D.J. Woods has a strong upper body and slender legs. He may need some time. Daryle Ballew is a battler who may still help at tackle. Freshmen Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe are both tackles, with Teitsma the stronger and more athletic one of the two.
Martez Wilson is playing with a lot of confidence at middle linebacker, and Ian Thomas makes a good playing partner. Backups Evan Frierson and Aaron Gress are both experienced. Freshmen Jonathan Brown and Houston Bates look like linebackers and hold future promise.
Bandit Michael Buchanan continues to improve, as does his backup Nate Palmer. Brandon Denmark is just learning, but he is athletic. Nathan Bussey and Ashante Williams are ahead of freshman Earnest Thomas at outside linebacker.
Supo Sanni, Travon Bellamy, Trulon Henry and Walt Aikens are competing at the safeties. Aikens must wait for full clearance. Freshmen Ean Days and Fritz Rock have made a strong early impression. The clear leaders at cornerback are team leader Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne, with Pat Nixon-Youman improved as a backup. Nixon-Youman has bulked up his slender frame.
Anthony Santella has boomed some of his best ever punts, while backup freshman Brad Janitz hits an occasional bomb as he develops consistency. Freshman Nick Immekus has promise as a placekicker, but he will have trouble beating out Derek Dimke and Matt Eller.
Full pads go on Tuesday. That is when we find out what the Illini have this year.