Camp Rantoul report Day 6: Back for more?
With Illinois headed back to campus, beat writer Bob Asmussen studies a possible return to Camp Rantoul in 2013 in his daily installment of news and notes:
THEY'LL BE BACK
Today marks the final day of Camp Rantoul 2012. Will there be a 2013 version?
"I think this has been great," Illinois coach TIM BECKMAN said. "We've had great camp. The hospitality here has been unbelievable. It will definitely be something we talk about as a staff.
"I like this. I really do. It gives the kids an opportunity to see what could happen to them in the future, a pro camp. I think it's unique. I definitely think it's got its advantages."
The week spent in Rantoul was shorter than previous camps. The team also reported immediately to Camp Rantoul. In the past, the Illini have spent a couple of days of practices in Champaign before heading north.
Beckman and the Illini start private workouts Monday in Champaign. All of the sessions at Memorial Stadium will be closed to the public. The next media access won't be until Aug. 20, with the first 30 minutes open to reporters.
In Rantoul, all of the facilities are within easy walking distance. That won't be the case when the team begins in Champaign. The players and coaches are staying at the Hawthorn Suites on Neil Street and will have to drive themselves to practice each day.
"We're going to treat the Hawthorn just like it is here," Beckman said. "Everybody will be together. They will be in their own meeting rooms."
The Illinois seniors aren't weepy about their last trip to Camp Rantoul. But they do see the value of the place.
"It's crazy to think five camps, five years and this is the last one," defensive end JUSTIN STAPLES said.
"It's going to be bittersweet," safety SUPO SANNI said. "There are a lot of memories on this field. Maybe once I'll get older, I'll come back. I'll try to. This place served us well in a lot of ways."
Poll the players, Staples and Sanni said, and they would mostly vote to continue the annual visits.
"Camp has its own grind no matter where we're at," Staples said. "We could be in Rantoul. We could be in Champaign. We could be in Chicago. It's just the mentality you have when you're in camp. We enjoy be able to get away from Champaign, get away from distractions and just come out here and focus on football all day."
"The serious football players would say, 'Yes, I want to come here,' " Sanni said.
Illinois is below the NCAA-allowed limit of 85 scholarships. Beckman said he wants to reward some senior walk-ons with scholarships for their final season.
"I've always done that if we have any available," Beckman said. "They have to earn it. I think I've put on nine in three years."
No decision has been made yet on possible scholarship candidates.
Kickoffs this year have been moved up 5 yards, making it easier for the kickers to reach the end zone. But there's a catch: any touchback will now go out to the 25 instead of the 20.
In the past, coaches would happily have their kickers bang the ball out of the end zone. Eighty yards is a long way to go.
Will the 25 make a difference?
"Last year, if you look at the average of what people did, the goal was to keep them inside the 27," Beckman said. "Our kicker wasn't a guy who could kick it out of the end zone last year.
"The wind will play a big factor in those decisions. Only have a 5-yard head start (for the coverage team) really slows you down."
On Saturday morning, freshman linebacker MIKE SVETINA lost his helmet stripe, a new team ritual that signifies his move to the "varsity."
"He's made some plays," Beckman said. "All three (freshman) linebackers have really done good. Mike made a play a couple practices ago and scored a touchdown, so we thought he deserved (the destriping)."
All of the freshman linebackers will be special teams candidates. And will have a chance to get in on defense.
After Saturday's evening practice, freshman receiver DEVIN CHURCH lost his stripe. Church came to Illinois as a running back but is working as a slot receiver.
"We're trying to make it as simple as we can for him now because he's only been here a week," Beckman said. "There are other opportunities as we do for everybody."
At Camp Rantoul, the players and coaches are pretty much shut off from the outside world. The News-Gazette is delivered each morning to their place. And they get to watch a few minutes of television during meals.
On Saturday morning, the players watched an Olympic update, including a story on the Dream Team.
"I've watched about 15 minutes," Beckman said. "That's about it."
On the ESPN crawl, they saw that LSU had dropped TYRANN MATHIEU.
LOOKING FOR WORK
Former Illini defensive back/linebacker NATE BUSSEY, who spent the 2011 NFL season with the New Orleans Saints, has been dropped by the team.
Bussey, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, spent most of the season on the practice squad. But he was moved to the active list for the playoffs and played in one game.
Bussey hopes to continue his career. The St. Louis Rams have shown interest.
The final practice at Camp Rantoul is at 9 a.m. today. The team has Media Day at Memorial Stadium this afternoon. On Monday, the team has practices at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The practices in Champaign are closed to the public and media.
Position watch: Specialists
The evaluations continue for the Illinois kickers, punters and returners.
"It's great competition," coach TIM BECKMAN said.
Sophomore JUSTIN DuVERNOIS, who started most of the 2011 season, continues to be the leading punter.
"He's got a year underneath his belt and has done much better," Beckman said. "He's had a good camp so far."
The starting kicker job appears to be a three-player race between freshman RYAN FRAIN, sophomore walk-on NICK IMMEKUS and redshirt freshman walk-on TAYLOR ZALEWSKI. Frain and Immekus took turns nailing long field goals, with the wind, during Saturday's morning practice.
For the returns, freshmen DEVIN CHURCH and DAMI AYOOLA, Northern Illinois transfer TOMMY DAVIS, quarterback MILES OSEI and senior cornerback TERRY HAWTHORNE are being considered.
"We're going to evaluate and see who the best is," Beckman said.
COACHING CORNER: Cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale
The first-year coach is having no problem finding leaders at his position. Seniors JUSTIN GREEN, TERRY HAWTHORNE and JACK RAMSEY are making STEVE CLINKSCALE's Camp Rantoul debut a breeze. And that's not counting the three seniors at safety.
"You can coach and kind of bring your advanced game plan when you're meeting with them," Clinkscale said. "They've been in the fire. They've played the game before. They understand how to practice while they are out here."
Hawthorne is receiving preseason recognition, earning spots on watch lists and All-Big Ten hype.
"I think Terry Hawthorne is very capable of having a great season," Clinkscale said. "Terry is going to work hard. He's one of the hardest working defensive backs I've been around."
Green isn't far behind Hawthorne.
"Those guys had a great summer," Clinkscale said.
Ramsey is one of the top backups. Redshirt freshman EATON SPENCE is also in the mix.
Green and Hawthorne might be asked to help on offense. Green was a standout tailback in high school and was recruited by Illinois to play the position. Hawthorne was a star receiver in East St. Louis who moved to defense to fill a need as an Illinois freshman.
"If that's going to help us win ballgames, we have no problem with that," Clinkscale said. "We'll get them prepared with the game plan, make sure they'll be successful. And put some plays in for them to be successful on offense as well. This is a team effort. You have to have the best players on the field. And you have to be creative to do that."
Clinkscale is splitting the secondary work with defensive coordinator TIM BANKS.
"We do everything together," Clinkscale said. "We have great chemistry. The guys see that. That makes it simple for the guys to listen to both of us."
Like the rest of the staff, Clinkscale is a fan of Camp Rantoul.
"I love Camp Rantoul," Clinkscale said. "I love being here. I wouldn't rather be anywhere else. You see a lot of positives. You eat, drink and sleep football. You get closer."
Survey says ...
Each day during Camp Rantoul, we will run survey answers from the Illinois football players. Today's guests:
QUARTERBACK JIM NUDERA
Obama or Romney? Romney
Olympic event you had to watch? Wrestling
Favorite stadium to visit? Wrigley Field
1992 Dream Team or 2012 version? 1992
RG3 or Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck
Teammate who should be on "America's Got Talent"? Sean McGushin is multi-talented
How many days would you like to stay in Camp Rantoul? As many as Beckman says
Other than your girlfriend, who will be cool if you answer this, who is your dream date? Lauren Conrad
Which current Illinois coach looks like he can still play? Coach Beatty (not QB though)
Other than a teammate, who is your Heisman favorite? Matt Barkley/Landry Jones
You are in charge of music at Memorial Stadium. What's on? Gin Blossoms
CORNERBACK TERRY HAWTHORNE
Obama or Romney? Obama
Olympic event you had to watch? Track and field
Favorite stadium to visit? Ohio Stadium
1992 Dream Team or 2012 version? 2012
RG3 or Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck
Teammate who should be on "America's Got Talent"? Glenn Foster
How many days would you like to stay in Camp Rantoul? Two days
Four-team playoff or BCS? Four-team playoff
Which current Illinois coach looks like he can still play? Coach Hood
Other than a teammate, who is your Heisman favorite? Montee Ball (St. Louis)
You are in charge of music at Memorial Stadium. What's on? R&B