The Illinois football team opened fall practices on Monday morning at the practice field next to Memorial Stadium.
CHAMPAIGN — Bill Cubit had an inkling about what the assembled reporters wanted to talk about before a question was asked.
Returning starter Nathan Scheelhaase, Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt and highly-regarded freshman Aaron Bailey were all on display Monday morning as Illinois opened up fall camp with its first practice.
Backup Reilly O'Toole will practice this afternoon.
"They did a great job in the summer," the new Illinois offensive coordinator said of the trio. "We installed early, and I think they got the finer points in there. In the spring, we just had to install the schemes. We didn't do too much with the technique because we didn't have time, but ... I thought they came out and played pretty well. They completed some long balls, which was good. I thought we got rid of the ball a little quicker, but we still need to get that better."
The three quarterbacks — who all wore red no-contact jerseys — threw passes during positional drills and took snaps under center off to the side during the 30-minute window media was allowed to watch at the start of practice.
Cubit said Bailey needs some work technique-wise — more touch on certain throws and getting the ball out quicker — but he didn't sense any fear from the Bolingbrook product.
"He jumped right in," Cubit said. "He understood the signals, but we got to get him a little bit up to speed about what we're trying to do."
Illinois coach Tim Beckman said Bailey made a few bad decisions mixed in with some solid ones.
His running ability was evident, but Beckman came away impressed with another aspect.
"He's got a stronger arm," Beckman said. "You seen him on TV or you seen him in high school, where they run the football a lot (at Bolingbrook) ... but his arm is a lot stronger than I thought it was."
As expected, Lunt did not get many repetitions.
The Rochester product will sit out the 2013 season and run the scout team before he is eligible for the 2014 season.
"Again, I'm happy to have Nathan and Aaron Bailey and Wes," Beckman said. "It's good to see Wes here because of the type of kid Wes is and what he brings to the table, even more than just being a great football player."
Illinois held its first practice session of the 2013 season.
Beckman has split the team up into two teams for the first four days of practice this week, with the Orange taking reps this morning before the Blue squad hits the field at 4:25 p.m. today.
Most of the projected starters are with the Orange squad, with all five projected starting offensive linemen (Simon Cvijanovic, Michael Heitz, Alex Hill, Ted Karras and Corey Lewis) present this morning, along with other projected offensive starters like running back Donovonn Young and wide receivers Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris.
Linebackers Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim and defensive end Tim Kynard, among others, were also on hand in the morning session.
"Not just with freshmen, but some junior college players, this is their first two-a-day," Beckman said. "We're able to spend a little bit more time because the lines aren't as deep, and we really strive on (being) technique sound, so we're going to do that until Thursday and then (Friday)we'll come back together as a team."
What was learned
Safety Ben Mathis (knee), offensive lineman Scott McDowell (foot) and defensive tackle Vontrell Williams (foot) rode stationary bikes Monday morning while the trio recovers from injuries.
"We hope as they progress throughout the preseason I'll be able to tell you more, but right now, they'll be shelved until at least Friday," Beckman said.
What was said
"As a football coach, I'm anxious. We're all trying to get better. I'm proud of their commitment for the last eight months. We're going on the ninth month now, so let's keep this thing rolling."
— Beckman on first practice