Camp Rantoul report Day 5: Ice cream all around

Camp Rantoul report Day 5: Ice cream all around

Bob Asmussen's take on Thursday's single-session at Camp Rantoul:



There were new faces in new places Friday on the Illinois offensive line.

While HUGH THORNTON and GRAHAM POCIC continued to play left tackle and left guard, respectively, ALEX HILL worked with the first unit at right guard. And MICHAEL HEITZ, who had been playing guard during most of training camp, was moved back to his original right tackle position.

"We talk about it every night," Illinois coach TIM BECKMAN said. "We've got to get the five best out there."

Beckman said the lineup is far from set. The competition continues the remaining three weeks before the opener against Western Michigan.

The offensive line isn't the only place there there is some experimenting. Beckman had JONATHAN BROWN and HOUSTON BATES switch linebacker positions Friday morning. Brown worked at the WILL and Bates moved to the MIKE.

"It's always being aware of the scheme," Beckman said.


Another day, another competition. Just to keep things lively.

On Thursday, players took turns throwing footballs into trash cans. On Friday, they threw bottles. Presumably, the plastic kind.

Players tried to see who could throw Gatorade bottles from the cold tubs into a trash can. And the prize for the winning team?

"Ice cream," Beckman said.

The winners of Beckman's team competitions are always rewarded with some kind of food.

"Yeah, they're football players," Beckman said.


For the second consecutive practice, an Illinois newcomer lost the stripe off his helmet. In a good way.

On Friday, freshman tailback DAMI AYOOLA was officially welcomed to the varsity. Like TOMMY DAVIS on Thursday, Ayoola put his stripe on a dry-erase board and signed his name. He was sponsored by JOSH FERGUSON.

"He's done nice," Illinois running backs coach TIM SALEM said. "He knows what the expectation levels are. He has picked things up."


There is a noticeable lack of cars in the hotel parking lot. Almost none.

In past years, Illinois players and coaches would drive themselves up to Camp Rantoul. Not this time.

The players and coaches arrived by bus. That's the same way they will go home after Sunday's morning practice.


With STEVE HULL recuperating from shoulder surgery, EARNEST THOMAS has taken over one of the starting safety spots.

"I'm just trying to get better every day," Thomas said. "We're trying to work on the little things, the fundamentals. And we're working on trying to make big plays."

Thomas was tried at a couple of different positions in the spring, including outside linebacker. But he has found a home at safety.

"I'm more natural at safety, but I can play either one," Thomas said. "It's just about learning the technique and learning what to do."

In his third Camp Rantoul, Thomas knows what to expect.

"First year, it was like bullets flying past you," Thomas said. "Now, it's like butterflies."

The Orchard Lake, Mich., native is looking forward to the Oct. 13 trip to Ann Arbor.

"I've got a lot of friends at Michigan," Thomas said. "That's always fun."



Today, the team will have the first double session, with practices at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The final practice at Camp Rantoul is at 9 a.m. Sunday.


POSITION WATCH: Quarterbacks

The starter has already won two bowl games. And has a chance to set a Big Ten record for postseason victories.

So, no matter what you hear or read, you can pretty much count on NATHAN SCHEELHAASE starting the opener against Western Michigan. And every game after that.

TIM BECKMAN likes competition at every position. And he's got it at quarterback. But while Scheelhaase appears to have risen above the competition, the backup spot is where there is heavy action.

REILLY O'TOOLE got on the field as a freshman and wants more playing time in 2012. He has to continue to try to climb toward Scheelhaase. And he has to continue to fend off MILES OSEI for the No. 2 job.

Because Osei is being asked to play more than just quarterback (he is working as a receiver and running back, too), the most likely scenario for the Illini is to stick with O'Toole as the backup and use Osei in multiple situations.

The guess is that you will see Scheelhase and Osei in the backfield at the same time. And maybe Scheelhaase won't be the one behind center. When the team goes behind closed doors next week, the quarterback situation will get better defined. The Illinois coaches don't want to give any of their plans away before the opener against Western Michigan.

And the defense Illinois faces each week could have an impact on the quarterback depth chart. If an opponent struggles against a running quarterback that could mean bonus work for Osei. Defenses who are weak against the pass could see more of O'Toole.



Running backs/Special teams coach Tim Salem

The guy with the most experience hasn't even carried the ball 100 times. And that's plenty more than the No. 2 most experienced tailback.

Despite the youth at his position, TIM SALEM has been pleased with the work of DONOVONN YOUNG, JOSH FERGUSON and three freshmen.

"Attitude is good," Salem said. "They are energized. Coach Beckman has done a great job of keeping the kids focused when they need to be focused and let off just an ounce, then put the finger right back on them."

DAMI AYOOLA, DEVIN CHURCH and LaKEITH WALLS are in their first training camp. Salem, a former Minnesota quarterback, remembers the feeling.

"It is overwhelming because the game of football, when you go from high school to college and college to pro, the speed and the tempo of the game is so fast," Salem said. "It's a major jump. The faster a kid is aware of his assignments, then you can go out there and play fast. We're still in a learning mode."

Salem wasn't sure what to think when he came to Camp Rantoul. He had heard stories. Not all of them good.

"I am very shocked in a very positive way," Salem said. "This place is phenomenal. From our fields to our locker room to our meeting rooms, the food has been good, this has been a first-class operation. It's a great way to prepare."



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


Obama or Romney? Romney

Olympic event you had to watch? Track

Favorite stadium to visit? Michigan

RG3 or Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck

Teammate who should be on "America's Got Talent"? Zak Pedersen

Four-team playoff or BCS? Four-team playoff

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 can still play? Kevin "Wheels" Abrams

Other than a teammate, who is your Heisman favorite? Landry Jones

You are in charge of music at Memorial Stadium. What's on? Beethoven or Bach



Obama or Romney? Romney

Olympic event you had to watch? Track and field

Favorite stadium to visit? U.S. Cellular Field

1992 Dream Team or 2012 version? 1992

RG3 or Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck

How many days would you like to stay in Camp Rantoul? Seven days

Four-team playoff or BCS? BCS

Other than your girlfriend, who will be cool if you answer this, who is your dream date? Jessica Alba

Which current Illinois coach looks like he can still 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? Kid Rock/Eminem

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