Illini Practice Early, Prepare For Scrimmage

The Fighting Illini football team held a mid morning practice Friday to allow the players time to get moved back to campus and prepare for the start of school Monday. It also allowed them a chance to practice before the heat of the day, when temperatures rose into the low 90's again. Saturday is their final scrimmage and practice at Camp Rantoul.

The Illinois football team practiced without full pads Friday as they saved energy for their big scrimmage Saturday. They were allowed time Friday afternoon to move into their fall residences and prepare for the beginning of classes Monday.

Zook would have preferred to keep them in camp until after the Saturday scrimmage.

"I'd rather not do that, but I think you've got to give them a chance with school starting on Monday. There's a lot of things they won't be able to get done on Sunday. So we'll give them a chance to go back.

"Of course, it gets their mind off it a little bit, which is probably good. It freshens their minds up. They'll be back tonight, we'll get on the practice tape from today, get up tomorrow and go man go."

The Saturday scrimmage concludes Camp Rantoul for another year. Zook expects to see growth from last week's scrimmage.

"Absolutely we need to see improvement, and I think we will. We're a better team right now than we were last week, and we should be. To the common person, it may not look much different than last Saturday night. But hopefully it will be much better. That's what you want to see. And see how they compete.

"My big thing, I want to be sure we compete the same way we competed all week. It's been fun watching them, the coaches getting... It's been good watching the guys do that."

The Friday practice was in shells to save bodies for the scrimmage. There was a great deal of drill work on fundamentals, plus some 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 action. All plays were stopped before there was too much aggression. Practice was designed to work more on plays and defenses rather than winning battles.

The Illinois defense needs to improve over last year, and Zook believes strongly that is happening.

"Absolutely we've made progress. It's something we've got to continue to improve on. Like any defense, you can't give up big plays. We've worked awfully hard on tackling, which is critical. We've just got to continue to improve.

"We've probably got more defense in than the offense has offense in. So their heads are swimming a little bit. But we'll turn them back a little bit and zero in on the things we do the best."

Everyone has tired legs after two and a half weeks of strenuous activity. That plus the restrictions placed on offense and defense needed for public consumption may limit excitement Saturday. But the main thing is to keep everyone healthy while giving them another good dose of competition.

Zook is sensitive to the need to get Illini bodies refreshed and will begin to cut back on practices as the Missouri game approaches.

"They begin to freshen up. Obviously, it's important we do get freshened up. There's no exact science to it. You've got to be careful. You observe practices next week and make sure that they've still got the pop. But I think it's hard for anybody, coaches included, to have fresh legs right now."

In the back of Zook's mind is the Missouri game in two weeks. The Illini will begin to focus on the Tigers a little at a time this next week before concentrating solely on them the following week.

"We'll look at some things next week. When you really start your game preparation is next week. Truth be known, we've done a couple things out here the last couple weeks. Focus only on Missouri begins game week."

In position battles, Zook says that Travon Bellamy should be considered one of three starters at safety along with Supo Sanni and Trulon Henry. And running back coach De Andre Smith expects to have the threesome of Zach Becker, Chris Willett and freshman Jay Prosch share time at the fullback spot.

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