Bob's Blitz: Miami Thomas hurt
There was plenty of Illini football talk on Tuesday's edition of Sports Talk with Steve Kelly. Catch the replay here.
IN THE NEWS
Illinois cornerback MIAMI THOMAS suffered a left knee injury during Tuesday's afternoon practice. He was carted off the field with his knee heavily wrapped.
"He came down on his knee," Illinois coach RON ZOOK said. "We'll have to wait and see. He came down funny. One of those freak things."
Thomas suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during the 2008 season.
Offensive guard JACK CORNELL left the workout with a lower leg injury. He was taken off on a cart.
"We'll have to see how bad it is," Zook said. "Hopefully, it's not too bad."
Starting right guard JON ASAMOAH missed another workout with what Zook originally thought was a sinus infection.
"He's got some kind of virus," Zook said. "They're doing more tests. We'll have to wait and see until he's all right."
BACK IN TOWN
A year after starting "Illinois Football: The Journey," a crew from the Big Ten Network will arrive this afternoon at Camp Rantoul. The Big Ten Network football tour is visiting all 11 league campuses. Rantoul is the seventh stop, a day after the bus stopped in West Lafayette, Ind.
"Just like last year except they're leaving," Zook said. "It will be good. They do a good job. I think they work hard at bringing each team, and for that matter the conference, to the nation."
Zook hasn't had a chance to see any of the other stops on the Big Ten tour.
"Right now, I'm worried about us," Zook said.
Working with the Illinois strength program as an assistant keeps JUSTIN HARRISON close to his former team. Though he can't coach on the field, Harrison is able to watch.
"He loves the game," Zook said. "He's excited to be around the guys. It's funny, you hear him saying things to Coach (MIKE) WOODFORD and to CURT (MALLORY) that are the same things we used to tell him. He understands the position, understands the game."
Harrison was known as a big hitter, a reputation reinforced this summer when his hit on Wisconsin's LUKE SWAN was shown repeatedly during "Fourth and Long."
"The biggest thing, just watching him in the weight room, that Justin brings is energy," Zook said. "Energy on the sideline, energy around those guys is good."
He'll get to play his first game of the season across the river from where he grew up, with family and friends in attendance. But the Missouri game is more than two weeks down the road for Illinois tailback JASON FORD, who isn't looking past the end of Camp Rantoul.
"It's real important because we've got school next week," Ford said. "We don't have much time to get meetings in and go over plays (next week). We've got to get our hard work in these next couple of days."
Ford is battling five other guys for playing time at tailback. Where does he fit in?
"Right now, it's impossible to tell," Ford said. "Everybody's running good. We're picking up pass protection, everything."
The competition serves as daily motivation.
"We see each other working so hard. We want to keep working hard so we can earn a spot and find a role in our offense," Ford said.
His second Camp Rantoul is easier than the first, Ford said.
"Last year, I came in kind of clueless and didn't know what was going on," Ford said. "Everybody helped me on the offense. Now, I know all the plays, all the signals."
He struggled with the offense at last year's Camp Rantoul.
"The first couple weeks, I was going the wrong way almost every play," Ford said.
FAN APPRECIATION DAY
The annual event is scheduled for noon Aug. 29. It will be held in the Great West Hall, with entrance permitted at Gate 24. Free parking will be available in the Assembly Hall lots.
The event is expected to run until 2 p.m. Players and coaches will be available for autographs and pictures.
Unlike recent years, the event won't include the soccer and volleyball teams, who are playing out of town that day. And unlike recent years, the event won't extend to the Memorial Stadium turf or stands.
POSITION WATCH: Defensive end
DOUG PILCHER enters his fourth year as a starter. For the first time, WILL DAVIS and DEREK WALKER aren't with him. While Davis and Walker try to earn spots in the NFL, Pilcher becomes the anchor at his position. He won't likely leave the field as much as in the past.
The other starter will be either senior ANTONIO JAMES or junior CLAY NURSE. Both were solid in the spring and have continued the good work during Camp Rantoul. New defensive line coach KEITH GILMORE will feel comfortable with either player on the field.
The fourth defensive end spot appears to be a competition between redshirt freshman WHITNEY MERCILUS and freshman MICHAEL BUCHANAN. The latter, a former News-Gazette All-Stater from Homewood-Flossmoor, has performed well in early workouts. Though official statistics weren't kept during Saturday's scrimmage at Camp Rantoul, Buchanan had at least one sack.
With JERRY BROWN permanently off the team, the Illini will need to develop one or two younger defensive ends. A year from now, James and Pilcher will be gone. And Nurse has two years left.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE SCHULTZ
Earlier, new offensive coordinator MIKE SCHULTZ talked about his players surviving the grind of Camp Rantoul. As the final practices approach, players start to look ahead.
"We're getting into that major grind the last couple of days," Schultz said. "For the most part, I think our kids have stayed focused. The coaches have had to push them at times. But Coach Zook has talked about this team being a player-driven team. I think our kids have responded to that."
Are the Illini looking forward to school? Classes begin next week.
"I think they're a little bit more in the process of looking forward to getting back to Champaign," Schultz said.
Besides his duties as offensive coordinator, Schultz is in charge of tight ends. One of those players, senior Mackey Award contender MICHAEL HOOMANAWANUI, is at his last Camp Rantoul.
Schultz has been impressed with Hoomanawanui's physical talents. And his mental abilities.
"Mike's very smart," Schultz said. "He makes on-the-field adjustments very well. You'd like to think we knew what defenses were going to do every time. We don't. If I did, it would be a lot easier."
The Illini will have a single practice at 3:30 p.m. today, Thursday and Friday. There is a practice scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Saturday before the team breaks camp.
ILLINOIS CAREER RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS
PLAYER YEARS YARDS
1. Howard Griffith 1987-90 31
2. Robert Holcombe 1994-97 25
2. Thomas Rooks 1982-85 25
4. Chubby Phillips 1973-76 24
4. Jim Grabowski 1963-65 24
4. Johnny Karras 1949-51 24
7. Ty Douthard 1993-96 23
7. Red Grange 1923-25 23
9. Rashard Mendenhall 2005-07 22
9. Antoineo Harris 1999-2002 22
SURVEY SAYS ...
Each day during Camp Rantoul, we will run survey answers from the Illinois football players. Today's guests:
DEFENSIVE TACKLE COREY LIUGET
Who threw the better first pitch: Juice or President Obama? Obama.
What nonconference team would you most like to play? University of Miami.
Other than your girlfriend, who is your dream date? Keyshia Cole.
All-time favorite sports movie? "Friday Night Lights."
Must-see TV? "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Martin" and "Jamie Foxx Show."
Complete the following: Camp Rantoul is ... a fun place.
Will LeBron stay with the Cavs? Nope.
Which of your teammates should be a judge on "American Idol"? Ian Thomas.
You are down to your last $20. What are you buying? Case of water to sell to make more money.
Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden? Bobby Bowden.
Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow? Colt McCoy.
Jay Cutler or Brian Urlacher? Brian Urlacher.
Who are you following on Twitter? Nobody.
We've got an AP ballot. Other than Illinois, who should we rank No. 1? Florida.
KICKER MATT ELLER
Who threw the better first pitch: Juice or President Obama? Juice.
What nonconference team would you most like to play? Any Florida team.
Other than your girlfriend, who is your dream date? Shakira. Have you seen the "She Wolf" video?
All-time favorite sports movie? "Legend of Bagger Vance."
Must-see TV? "Shark Week." They are beautiful animals.
Complete the following: Camp Rantoul is... all expenses paid.
Will LeBron stay with the Cavs? Who cares, the Magic will take them.
Which of your teammates should be a judge on "American Idol"? Ian Thomas, kid can sing.
You are down to your last $20. What are you buying? Food.
Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden? Bobby Bowden and I stress BOWDEN.
Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow? Tim Tebow, north Florida boy.
Jay Cutler or Brian Urlacher? Who cares? It's the Bears.
Who are you following on Twitter? Facebook man here.
We've got an AP ballot. Other than Illinois, who should we rank No. 1? Florida.