The Illinois football team held its morning session without full pads. It was crisp and filled with 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 action plus plenty of position drills.
Zach Becker and Clay Nurse saw less action in the morning, Becker to prevent excess stress on his feet and Nurse as a reward for being a fifth year senior. They practiced in the evening.
In position drills, reserve guard Anterio Jackson had a funny line. The linemen were supposed to pull off the line, race underneath a barrier and then dive into a blocking dummy. On completing one run, Jackson admonished the dummy, 'You've got nothing!' He was fired up, to say the least.
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino keeps pushing his receivers to think yards after catch. He is after them all the time, even when they stumble and fall. He yells, 'Get up. Quit falling down on your own. You might have scored a touchdown.' There are times when accidents happen, but perhaps there will be fewer stumbles with receivers concentrating on keeping their feet.
Freshman tight end Evan Wilson continues to impress. At 6'-6" he is an inviting target, and he rarely drops balls. Despite being slender he gets his nose into his blocking assignments and appears to have the tenacity and mental toughness for tight end blocking. With Becker watching, Wilson got some second team reps behind London Davis.
All the quarterbacks were sharp in 7 on 7 action as the short passing game was emphasized. Nathan Scheelhaase was 14 of 15, with the lone incompletion dropped. Chandler Whitmer was four for eight with three dropped and another pass broken up by Pat Nixon-Youman. Miles Osei was 5 for 6, his lone miss broken up by Trulon Henry. In fairness to the quarterbacks, all the drops were from freshmen or walkons.
Fourteen different players caught passes during these segments. Jarred Fayson and A.J. Jenkins were popular with three grabs each. The second segment was red zone activity, so Jenkins, Darius Millines, Justin Lattimore and Steve Hull all caught touchdown passes.
The Illini bring together the team for 11 on 11 action near the end of each practice. This morning, running backs Mikel Leshoure, Jason Ford, Troy Pollard, Justin Green and Bud Golden all had good runs through open holes. There was no tackling. Ford scored a touchdown in the 2-minute drill.
The defense will begin to show its potential once hitting resumes in earnest. Until then, it is difficult to estimate how good it can be. But several defenders made excellent plays in the last segments. Scheelhaase was sacked by Corey Liuget and Whitney Mercilus; Supo Sanni diagnosed an Eddie McGee option run for a loss; and Ian Thomas grabbed Leshoure before he could get going on an outside run.
Also, Henry hit Leshoure in the backfield for a loss; Nathan Bussey broke up a pass from Scheelhaase; Justin Staples knocked down a Scheelhaase pass at the line of scrimmage and then stopped Leshoure for no gain; both Scheelhaase and Whitmer were sacked; and Pollard was stuffed by Mike Buchanan.
The same format was followed in the evening. The quarterbacks were somewhat less accurate, and the receivers dropped a few catchable balls. No doubt the two sessions and continued heat contributed to the inaccuracy. The lights on the first field at Camp Rantoul are not real bright, so that may have contributed as well.
There were some highlights. Scheelhaase fired a long post bomb to Hull for a touchdown during 7 on 7's. In red zone work, Osei hit Pollard on a touchdown pass. Freshman Spencer Harris caught a TD from Scheelhaase. And Jack Ramsey did likewise on a Whitmer toss.
When they went 11 on 11, McGee had a long run on an outside quarterback option. Whitmer hit Evan Wilson on a short route over the middle, and Wilson rambled down the sideline for a long gainer. Whitmer later hit Wilson for a touchdown.
Defensively, defensive tackle Daryle Ballew played havoc on inside runs. Clay Nurse and Akeem Spence each had sacks. Defensive tackle Glenn Foster banged into Golden for no gain. And Earnest Thomas and Martez Wilson each broke up passes.
The Illini struggled with two-minute offense to conclude the night practice. Freshman linebacker Jonathan Brown broke up a pass to force the first string offense to kick a field goal, but Derek Dimke missed a 47 yarder to the left.
Whitmer got the second unit off to a good start on a completion to Golden and a lengthy quarterback draw. Ramsey made a great catch as he was clobbered by Henry. But things then fell apart. Bussey appeared to knock the ball from Whitmer's grasp, but a fumble wasn't called. Whitmer then tried to hit freshman Ryan Lankford on a long bomb to the end zone, but it was just beyond his grasp. Another incompletion ended the threat.
It was learned that deep reserve center Ryan Sedlacek quit the team. He did not appear to be in top shape based on his response to the first day of practice. His chance of playing time was slim, so he may be wise to look elsewhere. This may have been part of the reason Andrew Carter was returned to the offensive line.
The Illini practice Thursday was moved to 6:00 pm.