Camp Rantoul: Day 11 coverage

Each day during Camp Rantoul, beat writer Bob Asmussen will take you inside the world of Illini football. Here's the report from Thurday's action.

IN THE NEWS

ACHES, PAINS

Junior receiver Jeff Cumberland missed practice Thursday because of a sore foot. Cumberland played through a foot injury during the 2007 season.

"It was bothering him a little bit," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "No use taking a chance with that."

Zook said he doesn't know how long Cumberland will be out. The staff will consider different options.

Offensive tackle Xavier Fulton is limited because of an ankle injury sustained at the scrimmage at Rantoul High School.

"If we were playing a game (on Saturday), he would be practicing," Zook said. "He's going to be fine."

Though the Illini lost defensive tackle Sirod Williams for the season, Zook said Camp Rantoul has been a healthy one – "knock on wood." He wants to keep it that way.

"This is the point in time in camp when you get a little stressed, you get a little fatigued," Zook said.

CHANGING IT UP

Zook trimmed a bit of the individual session Thursday, which was held at the end of practice. Usually, the individual period is early in the session.

"(Graduate assistant) Mike Degory told me how much he loved that when he played for us (at Florida)," Zook said. "You come out and you get into plays. They like it a lot better."

When considering changes to practice, Zook said he tries to put himself in the player's mind-set.

"I know they're tired," Zook said. "I know they're sore. Shoot, I'm tired. I'm sore. But I also know that it's important that we get this work done."

Training camp is different now than during Zook's playing days at Miami (Ohio).

"It was some of the worst weeks in my life," Zook said. "It was not a lot of fun. It's not a lot of fun with the coaches right now. We're cranky, and everybody's sleep deprived. But the way we do it, the kids get enough sleep and rest."

GETTING READY

A starting cornerback in 2007, Dere Hicks knew there would be plenty of training camp competition. So, he spent extra time during the summer, working out with teammate Travon Bellamy after the team's conditioning drills.

"We worked on our breaks and keeping our hips squared," Hicks said. "We were working on different steps and breaking on the ball."

Hicks said he has been pushed in training camp by returnees Vontae Davis, Miami Thomas and Antonio Gully. There are also freshman cornerbacks Patrick Nixon, Ashante Williams and Tavon Wilson to contend with.

"We've got a lot of people competing for the same position," Hicks said. "You mess up one play and it might be your last rep. I take every play like it's my last play out there."

In 2007, Hicks finished eighth on the team with 52 tackles. He had two interceptions and broke up five passes. He is eager to get back on the field Aug. 30 against Missouri.

"I'm definitely excited," Hicks said. "A Top 10 team in the nation. It's a good time to show your talents."

MEDIA BLITZ

Zook spent a few minutes before Thursday's practice talking with Scott Van Pelt on ESPN Radio. The nationally syndicated anchor asked the coach about his nickname within the team (Ric Flair) and his thoughts on the upcoming season.

"We're going to be a better team than we were last year," Zook told Van Pelt. "I don't think there's any question about that. I feel that way right now."

The attention will continue today with the Big Ten Network studio crew visiting Camp Rantoul. Anchor Dave Revsine and analysts Howard Griffith and Gerry DiNardo are scheduled to arrive late in the morning.

A studio set will be placed beyond the south end of the fields. Illinois will be featured on the channel during "Big Ten Tonight: Illinois Football Practice," a 90-minute show airing at 8 p.m. today. Later, the Big Ten Network will have a 30-minute Illinois preview show.

"It won't be a distraction," Zook said.

Zook coached against DiNardo, the former head coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt.

"He's a great football coach," Zook said. "On the Big Ten Network, they're knowledgeable and they understand the game. They do a nice job of presenting it, and they're fair. They've got 11 teams that they're pulling for."

POSITION WATCH: DEFENSIVE TACKLE

The unexpected loss of Sirod Williams has a major impact on the position. Before the senior got hurt, he was leading at the spot opposite David Lindquist.

Now, the position belongs to sophomore Josh Brent, with help coming from a pair of youngsters. Redshirt freshman Daryle Ballew, part of a growing Ohio contingent on the team, moves up a notch. So does freshman Cory Liuget, who has looked sharp in his first college practices.

Former walk-on Lindquist has become an anchor at one spot. The Highland Park product is receiving preseason All-Big Ten mention.

Many considered Brent a lock for the position going into Camp Rantoul, but he was trailing Williams in what had become a three-person rotation.

The Illinois coaches will get as many tackles ready as possible. But defensive line coach Tom Sims won't run someone out on the field unless he is confident the player will produce.

With a pack of players at end, some of the bigger members (Doug Pilcher, Derek Walker) might see time inside. Liuget, Ballew and Brent can cut that possibility with a strong final two weeks before the opener against Missouri.

COACHING CORNER: INSIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS COACH JIM PRY

It's far enough into training camp now that the coaches are starting to get a clear idea of who will be ready to play Aug. 30. Positions always can change and players can move up and down the list, but some decisions are being made. In pencil.

"You know who came back ready to play, excited for this season," third-year coach Jim Pry said.

Pry works with sophomore receiver Arrelious Benn, who college football analyst Trev Alberts calls the fourth-best receiver in the nation.

After playing the 2007 season with an injured shoulder, Benn is healthy. Pry sees the difference.

"He had that bottled up all spring," Pry said. "He's a player, a competitor. Now, it's coming out. When he's healthy, he's 100 percent."

Benn put a smile on Pry's face by getting into the end zone during Monday's scrimmage at Rantoul High School. Benn had to break away from a defender and reach out to get the score.

"That's wanting and smelling the end zone," Pry said. "Another play you didn't see is he blocked three guys on one play that got us down to the 1-yard line. That's what kind of competitiveness he has going on right now."

Marques Wilkins, Greg McClendon and Alex Reavy are backing up Benn. Freshman Jack Ramsey also is working at the position.

"He's really making an impact right now," Pry said.

Pry said tight end Michael Hoomanawanui looks better than ever.

"He's stronger, and he moves better," Pry said. "He's really progressed a lot during the offseason."

A pair of freshmen, London Davis and Hubie Graham, are working behind Hoomanawanui.

"They're doing well," Pry said. "London Davis has never been in a three-point stance, so that's a little bit of an adventure for us. He's a tough guy, and he's quick. Hubie Graham is a bigger guy, a more physical tight end. Those guys are going to see the field for sure."

SCHEDULE

The team has two sessions today, with a morning workout at 8:05. The evening practice is scheduled for 6:15. The team will scrimmage at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The session is closed to the public. On Sunday, Illinois hosts Fan Appreciation Day at 1 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

TODAY'S LIST

SINGLE-GAME RECEPTION LEADERS

PLAYER, YEAR     OPP.     No.

1. David Williams, 1985     Purdue     16

2. Keith Jones, 1988     Mich. St.     13

3. Mike Martin, 1982     Ohio State     12

3. David Williams, 1984     Michigan     12

3. Kameno Bell, 1991     Ohio State     12

3. Brandon Lloyd, 2001     N'western     12

7. Wayne Strader, 1979     Iowa     11

7. Ty Douthard, 1993     Penn State     11

7. Kelvin Hayden, 2003     California     11

7. E.B. Halsey, 2005     Iowa     11

SURVEY SAYS ...

Each day during Camp Rantoul, we will run survey answers from the Illinois football players. Today's guests:

DEFENSIVE TACKLE DARYLE BALLEW

Which Illini legend do you most want to meet on Sept. 6? Dick Butkus.

Who wins the Cubs-White Sox World Series? White Sox.

What's your favorite Ron Zook saying? "I ain't no Willie off the pickle boat."

Who on the basketball team can play football? Demetri McCamey.

Fix up the Assembly Hall or new arena? Fix it up.

Favorite sport in the Olympics? Track.

Obama or McCain? Obama.

Complete the following: Camp Rantoul is ... tough.

Other than your girlfriend (who is cool and will understand if you answer this question) who is your dream date? Beyonce.

Which player wins "Dancing With the Stars?" Glenn Foster.

Who is your favorite superhero? Wolverine from the X-Men.

We've got a Heisman Trophy ballot. Who should we vote for? Arrelious Benn.

LONG SNAPPER TAD KEELY

Which Illini legend do you most want to meet on Sept. 6? Dick Butkus.

Who wins the Cubs-White Sox World Series? Cubs.

Who on the basketball team can play football? Mike Tisdale, field goal block specialist.

Fix up the Assembly Hall or new arena? Fix it up.

Favorite sport in the Olympics? Track and field.

Obama or McCain? McCain.

Complete the following: Camp Rantoul is ... a vacation for kickers, punters, specialists. Club Med.

Other than your girlfriend (who is cool and will understand if you answer this question) who is your dream date? Taylor Swift.

Which player wins "Dancing With the Stars?" Ian Thomas.

Who is your favorite superhero? Batman.

We've got a Heisman Trophy ballot. Who should we vote for? Arrelious Benn.

PICK 'EM

Guess Illinois’ record and you could win tickets to a 2009 Illini football game. Submit your  thoughts at www.IlliniHQ.com. Selected responses:

9-3 — I just don't think Illinois can beat Ohio State and Wisconsin. The other loss will come to either Missouri or Michigan. ... Do I hope I'm wrong and they go 12-0? Absolutely. And being stuck here in Iowa, as long as they win that game I'll be happy. Todd Garrison, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

9-3 — I'm looking forward to seeing how Juice and Arrelious Benn perform this year. Might we be talking about a Heisman hopeful? Dufrene has some big shoes to fill, but he should do all right. Jordan Hollern, Rantoul

10-2 — I think we go 6-2 in the Big Ten and play on New Year's Day in either the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl. Justin May, St. Joseph

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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tyerkey wrote on August 15, 2008 at 11:08 am

10-2 - I think we trip up Misouri with better defense this year but lose at Penn State. Then Ohio State comes to Champaign for revenge and beats us in a close game.

TeppersBriefcase wrote on August 17, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Didn't Joe Curtis catch 11 passes at Ohio State in 1980 (the day Dave Wison went 43 for 69 for 621 yds)???