Fighting Illini Perform For Big Ten Network

The Fighting Illini football team welcomed the Big Ten Network to camp Monday evening as part of its annual tour of conference teams. But not before the Illini held a rousing, intense morning practice in which the coaches were fired up to prevent a sluggish renewal after a day of rest.

The Big Ten Network sent commentators Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and former Illini Howard Griffith to Camp Rantoul, along with a camera crew. It is impossible for them to get a full understanding of Illinois football in so short a time, but they will no doubt base their judgments on the one practice.

There were highlights for later broadcast. But the morning session was the most intense early morning practice in recent memory. Run without full pads, the mornings of double sessions are usually reserved for drills and review. But on this day, Illini coaches worked diligently to fire up their players. As a result, the offense and defense went at each other with great intensity.

After failing to please their coaches Saturday night, the defensive unit was especially intense. Each time it stopped the offense for minimal gain, the players cheered each other's effort. Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning was encouraging, complimenting each good play. They kept up their intensity throughout 11 on 11 drills, saving their biggest celebration for Ean Days's interception of a tipped pass.

After having time to sleep on it and review film, Koenning was more conciliatory than after the scrimmage. He had been distraught about the long pass plays, but he found the problems less severe than first feared.

"Like always, it's never as bad as it seems and never as good as it seems. It's somewhere in between. A lot of correctable stuff.

"The long plays were the nemesis. On one of them the guy fell down. We say any time a db falls down, it's usually six points. We need to stay on our feet.

"On the other one, we had a guy trying to do more than just his job. I talk to our players about raising my kids. They're always fighting. Somebody has a toy somebody else doesn't have. I tell them, Camden needs to worry about Camden, and Jackson needs to worry about Jackson. Our guys need to worry about their jobs first."

Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino is always fiery, but he was perhaps his most intense of camp. He went after every imperfection, demanding improvement. At 8:00 am, he was the most vocal, energized coach on a field full of them, and his receivers were going through their paces. Petrino extended his attitude toward the entire offense as the morning progressed.

There was only one noticeable change in the depth chart. Travon Bellamy was playing first string free safety ahead of Trulon Henry. Otherwise, the Saturday scrimmage confirmed the depth chart for the first units.

There was a brief hitting scrimmage to show the BTN cameras. And the 2nd and 3rd string quarterbacks wore white mesh jerseys over their red ones, meaning they could be tackled. Chandler Whitmer and Miles Osei came through the period unscathed, but hitting was intense. Both sides took turns cheering good plays.

Among the highlights, receiver Jarred Fayson made a leaping catch over the top of Bellamy. Osei hit tight end Zach Becker on a short crossing pattern, and Becker rambled down the sideline for a big gain. Freshman receiver Ryan Lankford ran past cornerback Walt Aikens and grabbed a long touchdown catch from Whitmer. Defensively, Nathan Bussey ran down Osei from the opposite side for a loss.

In later 11 on 11 action without tackling, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase demonstrated his potential with some impressive runs that likely would not have been stopped had it been live. He had a lengthy scramble up the middle for what appeared a touchdown, and he had another impressive gain on an option. He also showed off his arm with a long post touchdown to A.J. Jenkins.

Other offensive highlights included Whitmer hitting Chris James over the middle. James split the seams and rambled for a TD. Running backs Troy Pollard, Mikel Leshoure and Justin Green ran for touchdowns in red zone work. Eddie McGee made a great leaping grab of a ten yard pass from Osei for a touchdown, and Osei ended the action with a five yard dive into the end zone.

The Illini continue preparations for the season Tuesday afternoon.

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