5 Questions: Camp Rantoul
The Illini will spend almost three weeks at Camp Rantoul in preparation for the 2008 season. Here are staff writer Bob Asmussen's five questions Ron Zook's bunch needs to answer:
Which running backs are ready to go?
Daniel Dufrene opens training camp as the starter, and there is a good chance he will keep the job. He was the team's No. 3 rusher in 2007 behind Rashard Mendenhall and Juice Williams. An overlooked number is Dufrene's 6.3 yards per carry average, only 0.1 lower than Mendenhall's average (albeit it on 205 fewer carries).
Troy Pollard is coming back from knee surgery. He played well before he got hurt, and the coaches have great confidence in him. He will provide a nice changeup to Dufrene.
Based on 2007, the Illini need three contributing tailbacks, meaning Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford have three-plus weeks to work their way into the rotation.
How will the offensive line shake out?
If the coaches aren't satisfied with the work of Ryan Palmer at right tackle, they might consider moving Jon Asamoah from guard to the outside. In a perfect world, Palmer will make the choice for them, hold his position and allow them to keep Asamoah at right guard, where he is effective.
Three spots are claimed: Asamoah, Ryan McDonald at center and Xavier Fulton at left tackle. What's left is to decide left guard (Randall Hunt or Eric Block) and right tackle.
If Asamoah moves outside, Hunt and Block each could take one of the guard spots.
Should the goal posts be frightened?
Jason Reda isn't kicking for the Illini for the first time since 2003. None of the three walk-on kickers came close to securing the job in the spring, meaning it will be wide open starting to-day.
Incoming freshman Derek Dimke, who likely will be on scholarship, has a chance to follow Reda as a four-year starter. But if he struggles, which is possible for a young guy, Mike Cklamovski, Matt Brandabur and Matt Eller will have a chance to take over.
The coaches want to come out of Camp Rantoul with a starter. To a special teams guru like Ron Zook, switching kickers every week would be about as painful as a quarterback controversy.
Who is playing safety?
Justin Harrison and Kevin Mitchell weren't perfect, but they held down their jobs for four and three years, respectively. They were reliable, which was critical for the defense.
The new starters won't have the experience but might be more talented. Junior college transfer Donsay Hardeman will be called up from the first day to fill one of the starting spots. If he's up to it, there will be great relief for the defensive coaches.
Travon Bellamy is back after missing 2007 with a shoulder injury. He has the cover skills of a cornerback and the physical ability of a safety. Nate Bussey and Bo Flowers helped themselves in the spring.
After Arrelious Benn, who is the No. 2 go-to receiver?
Among the returning receivers, Brian Gamble was second on the team in 2007 with 16 catches. That won't cut it this season. Not with Mendenhall gone. Not with opposing defenses following Benn around like he's Randy Moss.
Gamble, Jeff Cumberland, Chris James, Marques Wilkins, Chris Duvalt and friends will fight for the spots opposite Benn. One needs to catch at least 45 passes, and another needs to get into the high 30s.
Camp Rantoul schedule
Aug. 4 2:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m.#
Aug. 5 2:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m.#
Aug. 6 2:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m.#
Aug. 7 3:30 p.m.
Aug. 8 3:30 p.m.
Aug. 9 8:05 a.m., 6:15 p.m.
Aug. 10 Off
Aug. 11 8:05 a.m., 6:15 p.m.
Aug. 12 3:30 p.m.
Aug. 13 8:05 a.m., 6:15 p.m.
Aug. 14 3:30 p.m.
Aug. 15 8:05 a.m., 6:15 p.m.
Aug. 16 TBA in Champaign
Aug. 17 Off
Aug. 18 8:05 a.m., 6:15 p.m.
Aug. 19 3:30 p.m.
Aug. 20 8:05 a.m., 6:15 p.m.
Aug. 21 3:30 p.m.
Aug. 22 3:30 p.m., break camp
# — split-squad practices