Asmussen's Camp Rantoul report Day 1: Nowicki takes field
IN THE NEWS
RYAN NOWICKI has officially joined the Illinois football team.
The offensive lineman was taken off Penn State's roster last week after letting the school know he intended to transfer. Because of NCAA sanctions after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, all Penn State players were allowed to transfer without penalty. But once the players practiced with the Nittany Lions this season, they were locked in for 2012.
Nowicki was a standout player in Glendale, Ariz. He had at least 20 scholarship offers as a high school senior and picked the Nittany Lions.
"Everything was official (Monday) morning, so we're happy to have Ryan Nowicki on the team," Illinois coach TIM BECKMAN said.
Nowicki redshirted as a freshman. He has four years of eligibility remaining at Illinois.
Will he contribute this season?
"We'll see," Beckman said. "It's his first practice."
Though he played high school football in Arizona, Nowicki spent part of his childhood in the Chicago area. He was born in Elgin. Nowicki's dad, CHRISTOPHER, played at Purdue.
Nowicki, who was not made available for comment, is one of nine players to have left Penn State so far. Star tailback SILAS REDD went to Southern Cal, and kicker/punter ANTHONY FERA is at Texas. JUSTIN BROWN, the leading returning receiver for the Nittany Lions, just moved to Oklahoma.
Yes, that was GRAHAM POCIC working at guard Monday. And HUGH THORNTON at tackle. And MICHAEL HEITZ at guard.
Beckman is looking for the best five offensive linemen, even if that means moving players to unfamiliar positions.
"We've got to make sure everybody is getting reps and that we have the best five offensive linemen," Beckman said. "We're going to do whatever is necessary. This is experimental. We are going to evaluate after each practice and then make decisions on who is best at what position."
Beckman expects the experimenting to continue. Today's center could be tomorrow's offensive tackle.
On Monday, Thornton and Pocic were lined up on the left side. Beckman was eager to look at the setup on film.
FATHER KNOWS BEST
Beckman's dad, DAVE, is attending Camp Rantoul. He knows his way around a football team after a long career as a college and pro coach.
"It's awesome," Tim Beckman said. "I can't be more proud to have him involved in this."
Dave Beckman and wife PAT split their time each year between their Cleveland-area home and one in Florida.
Beckman's parents plan an extended visit once the season starts, staying for September. Dave Beckman said he has been to Tim Beckman's games, home and away, throughout his head coaching career and plans to keep going.
During Monday's morning practice, loud music was pumped in for the team drills. The players should get used to it.
"I always have done it," Beckman said. "I think it's important that the players learn that we're going to be inside stadiums that are 60- to 100,000. We've got to be able to communicate. That's the reason we put the music on."
Beckman hadn't experienced Camp Rantoul before Monday. So, what does he think of the setup?
"I love it," Beckman said. "It reminds me of going to camp when I was a kid with the Cleveland Browns. I like utilizing this. I think they've done a fabulous job with the locker room. I like what we're doing here."
Offensive lineman COREY LEWIS continues to rehab from knee injuries that have cost him two seasons. Lewis is one of the 105 players who made the trip to Camp Rantoul, but Beckman said he won't participate in practices.
POSITION WATCH: Receiver
DARIUS MILLINES was feeling a bit under the weather Monday morning. He took a short break on the sideline but quickly went back onto the field.
"I'm getting through," Millines said. "Today was one of those days."
If the BILLY GONZALES/CHRIS BEATTY offense works the way they hope, it will need a healthy dose of Millines. The junior from Florida is the No. 3 leading returning receiver from 2011, catching 19 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. In what is expected to be a pass-happy system, Millines figures to get an increased workload.
"It's very important to get off to a great start (in camp), so we can just be at our peak come the first game of the season," Millines said.
Other than the bug that got him Monday morning, Millines is healthy. He missed four games in 2011 with a foot injury, which also cost him time in the spring.
"I'm ready to go," Millines said. "During the summer, I went to the doctor and he said I was cleared to do everything. I wanted to be smart with it. I didn't want to risk anything in the summer."
Millines and fellow juniors SPENCER HARRIS and RYAN LANKFORD have two huge numbers to try to fill: 90 and 1,276. That's how many catches and yards A.J. JENKINS had as a senior. The San Francisco 49ers noticed, picking Jenkins late in the first round of the NFL draft.
While it is doubtful any of the Illini will hit the 90-catch mark, the top three all could push past 40 or 50. They also will get some help from a stacked set of tight ends, led by No. 2 leading returning receiver JON DAVIS.
COACHING CORNER: Offensive line coach Luke Butkus
The first-year assistant has bragging rights on the rest of the staff and team: He was part of the first Camp Rantoul.
In 1998, the then-redshirt freshman center spent two fun-filled weeks in the northern Champaign County city.
"The feelings I have for this place, for the University of Illinois, you can't help but be fired up," Butkus said. "To be here as a player, to start this tradition at the University of Illinois, and then to carry it on as a coach, it's awesome."
If Tim Beckman asks his coaches to vote on future Camp Rantouls, Butkus will be a strong "Yes."
"I love it," Butkus said. "I love the opportunity to get away a little bit. I love the opportunity to bring us together as a team. This place is special to me. I might be a little biased. I've got great memories of this place and what we accomplished on this field, which carried over to Memorial Stadium. I get a little sentimental about it."
Butkus had a busy opening day at Camp Rantoul. Trying to find the five best offensive linemen, he shuffled players to different positions. To their credit, the players handled it well.
"They're great," Butkus said. "First day, they're not going to know everything. That's our job as coaches. They came out here with enthusiasm today and effort. That's all we asked. It's our job as coaches to get them to know what to do and when to do it."
GRAHAM POCIC worked at guard instead of his usual center.
"He has taken this on, and he's going to run with it," Butkus said.
Would Butkus have handled the change as well during his playing days?
"I don't know," Butkus said. "I was a center. I wasn't as good of an athlete as Graham. He has that ability to play all three inside positions, and he has the ability to play it well. This is best for the team, and he understands that and he knows that. I could ask him to play whatever position, and he would take it on. That's the type of kid he is. That's the type of leader he is."
SURVEY SAYS ...
Each day during Camp Rantoul, we will run survey answers from the Illinois football players. Today's guests:
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN TED KARRAS
Obama or Romney? Schwarzenegger
Olympic event you had to watch? Beach volleyball
Favorite stadium to visit? St. Vincent Health Field, Marian University, Indianapolis
1992 Dream Team or 2012 version? 1992
RG3 or Andrew Luck? RG3
Teammate who should be on "America's Got Talent"? Tony Durkin
How many days would you like to stay in Camp Rantoul? As long as Coach tells me
Four-team playoff or BCS? Playoff, for sure
Other than your girlfriend, who will be cool if you answer this, who is your dream date? Mila Kunis
Which current Illinois coach looks like he still can play? Mike Bellamy
Other than a teammate, who is your Heisman favorite? Marcus Lattimore
You are in charge of music at Memorial Stadium. What's on? '80s rock
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN AKEEM SPENCE
Obama or Romney? Obama
Olympic event you had to watch? Track and field
Favorite stadium to visit? Beaver Stadium
1992 Dream Team or 2012 version? 2012
RG3 or Andrew Luck? RG3
Teammate who should be on "America's Got Talent"? D.J. Woods
How many days would you like to stay in Camp Rantoul? Zero
Four-team playoff or BCS? Playoff
Other than your girlfriend, who will be cool if you answer this, who is your dream date? Cherokee
Which current Illinois coach looks like he still can play? Luke Butkus
Other than a teammate, who is your Heisman favorite? Denard Robinson
You are in charge of music at Memorial Stadium. What's on? Rick Ross and Meek Mill