Camp Rantoul: Day 1 coverage
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IN THE NEWS
CHECKING IT OUT
Future Illinois tight end C.J. FIEDOROWICZ watched Monday's opening practice. And the nation's second-rated tight end (according to Scout.com) liked what he saw.
"I really like the way they ran practice and the organization of everything," Fiedorowicz said. "I had fun hanging out with the guys. Everyone I talked to was awesome."
With double sessions starting Wednesday at Johnsburg, it was his one chance to see the Illini during training camp. Fiedorowicz said his next visit likely will be for the Oct. 10 game against Michigan State.
The Fiedorowicz tour extended beyond Camp Rantoul. Traveling with friends TYLER CHAMBERS and THOMAS KINNEY, plus his speed and strength coach CHRIS LEATHERS, Fiedorowicz went from practice to a tour of Memorial Stadium.
Illinois safety DONSAY HARDEMAN worked out in full pads for the first time since having neck surgery.
"It went well," Hardeman said. "I did a little bumping up, seeing how my neck heals. Defensivewise, we still got a lot of work to do. We've got to come out tomorrow and have a better day."
Illinois coach RON ZOOK said he noticed Hardeman.
"When No. 9 (Arrelious Benn) went by him, he looked slow," Zook said. "But he'll be fine. He hasn't played any football since November. You've got to play the game. You've got to get your timing back."
Was Hardeman thinking about his neck while on the field?
"No, I was just playing football," Hardeman said. "You can't really think about that. If I'm thinking about that, I'm not going to really do my assignment."
Zook worked with players who had similar injuries in the NFL and were able to return.
"I'm sure when we get out and really start hitting that first time or two, he'll think about it," Zook said.
Hardeman missed spring practice and said he has some catching up to do.
"I'm a little rusty," Hardeman said. "I think that would go for anybody. If you were out the whole spring and missed the last game and all you could do was basically lift weights, I think you'd be a little bit rusty. That's what this camp's for, to get back on track."
Zook said the team will be better prepared physically after training camp than it was at the start of the 2008 season.
"We're going to hit," Zook said. "There will be a lot of contact. We're going to do the things that you have to do. (Last year) we got worried about the wrong things."
Zook said he hasn't changed the amount of time spent on special teams during practice. It's what the Illini are doing with the time that's different.
"There's a lot more intensity and a lot more emphasis," Zook said.
If the players want to get on the field for offense or defense, Zook said, they also will be expected to help on special teams.
"They'll see their reps go way down," Zook said. "For us to take the next step, our special teams have got to be a phase of the game that can help us win."
Zook has added punter ANTHONY SANTELLA to the scholarship list. Other former walk-ons might be rewarded with a scholarship later in camp, Zook said.
"I think there's a pretty strong chance of that, but I think I'm going to wait toward the end of camp to see what's going on there," Zook said.
POSITION WATCH: Running back
It's a crowded room. And REGGIE MITCHELL isn't complaining.
He already had four experienced guys to work with, led by returning starter DANIEL DUFRENE. JASON FORD, Champaign's MIKEL LESHOURE and TROY POLLARD all competed with Dufrene during the spring to try to move up the depth chart.
Now, Mitchell has freshmen BUD GOLDEN and JUSTIN GREEN playing catchup. And performing well in early drills.
Combined, it's as talented a group as Mitchell has had at Illinois.
"When you look at it, it's kind of like when you had PIERRE (THOMAS) and RASHARD (MENDENHALL)," Mitchell said. "Only, we have more depth. I think we've got four guys who have proven they can play at this level and be successful. The other two guys have a chance to come in and do the same thing."
The freshmen have made a good first impression on Mitchell.
"I think Justin is a guy with a tremendous amount of talent," Mitchell said. "He brings something that we don't have. I think Bud is the same way. He's a great talent.
"We've just got to find a way to keep them all happy and get them involved."
The good news for Mitchell is he hasn't heard any griping from his guys.
"They're all unselfish," Mitchell said. "Sometimes, you get it where the older guys don't want to help the younger guys. But out at practice, Troy Pollard's out there coaching. I teased Troy he's trying to get my job."
COACHING CORNER: OFFENSIVE LINE COACH JOE GILBERT
Three days into training camp, the first-year coach could tell his offensive linemen worked hard during the summer. Both on the field and in the weight room.
"When we went through the split practices that we did, our conditioning was awesome," JOE GILBERT said. "They worked their butts off through a two-hour practice with only about eight linemen in each practice. They were taking a lot of reps. It's been real good."
Gilbert inherited a unit with established leaders. Senior offensive guard JON ASAMOAH and senior center ERIC BLOCK took care of the younger players during the summer while Gilbert wasn't allowed to be around.
"Jon and Eric are guys who lead by example," Gilbert said. "They're not rah-rah-type guys. Those guys have done a great job of saying, 'Hey, everything starts with us.' "
More than three weeks before the opener against Missouri, the starting lineup isn't set. And that's fine with Gilbert.
"I think we're going to have some depth," Gilbert said. "There's going to be competition as we go through camp, and that makes everybody better. That's the one thing I'm looking forward to the next two weeks, seeing that competitiveness with the guys who might not be that one yet but are going to be saying, 'Hey, I deserve some playing time.' "
Gilbert isn't going to pick five guys and never let them leave the field. If there are players who are close in ability to the starters, they will get snaps during the season.
"In the long run, as we go through 12 games in the Big Ten, it's hard to sit there and say you're going to hold up with five linemen," Gilbert said. "I really do believe we're going to have a good handful of guys who can go in, play three or four series in a game, and we don't really lose anything."
There are differences between Gilbert and former coach ERIC WOLFORD, who is now at South Carolina.
"We did do some different things as far as protections go," Gilbert said. "There are subtle changes. But from a schematic standpoint, a lot of it stayed the same."
The Illini will hold a single session Tuesday, with the workout scheduled for 3:30 p.m. The first double session of Camp Rantoul is Wednesday, with workouts set for 8:05 a.m. and 6:15 p.m.
ILLINOIS CAREER TOTAL YARDAGE LEADERS
PLAYER YEARS YARDS
1. Kurt Kittner 1998-2001 8,880
2. Jack Trudeau 1981-85 8,640
3. Juice Williams 2006-present 8,455
4. Jason Verduzco 1989-92 7,256
5. Tony Eason 1981-82 7,002
6. Johnny Johnson 1992-95 5,358
7. Jon Beutjer 2002-04 5,158
8. Jeff George 1988-89 4,767
9. Robert Holcombe 1994-97 4,105
10. Mike Wells 1970-72 3,204
SURVEY SAYS ...
Each day during Camp Rantoul, we will run survey answers from the Illinois football players. Today's guests:
LONG SNAPPER ZAK PEDERSEN
Who threw the better first pitch: Juice or President Obama? Obama in the White Sox jacket.
What nonconference team would you most like to play? The Longhorns in Austin.
Other than your girlfriend, who is your dream date? Zach Becker's sister.
All-time favorite sports movie? "Friday Night Lights."
Must-see TV? "The Simpsons."
Complete the following: Camp Rantoul is ... an opportunity to acquire a mean fan.
Will LeBron stay with the Cavs? Not if Shaq doesn't take him to the Finals.
Which of your teammates should be a judge on "American Idol"? Ian Thomas.
You are down to your last $20. What are you buying? Mike Cklamovski a well-deserved and much-needed Frappuccino.
Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden? Sticking with the Big Ten and Joe Pa.
Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow? If Steve Spurrier doesn't vote for Tebow, neither do I. Bradford.
Jay Cutler or Brian Urlacher? Jay Cutler (aka "The Savior.")
Who are you following on Twitter? No one in particular.
We've got an AP ballot. Other than Illinois, who should we rank No. 1? Gators.
KICKER MIKE CKLAMOVSKI
Who threw the better first pitch: Juice or President Obama? Psh ... Obama.
What nonconference team would you most like to play? Notre Dame.
Other than your girlfriend, who is your dream date? Freida Pinto.
All-time favorite sports movie? "Miracle."
Must-see TV? "Entourage."
Complete the following: Camp Rantoul is ... long.
Will LeBron stay with the Cavs? No shot.
Which of your teammates should be a judge on "American Idol"? Ian Thomas.
You are down to your last $20. What are you buying? Scratch-off Lotto tickets.
Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden? Paterno, for sure.
Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow? McCoy.
Jay Cutler or Brian Urlacher? Cutler.
Who are you following on Twitter? Justin Staples.
We've got an AP ballot. Other than Illinois, who should we rank No. 1? Florida.