Monday late practices: Linebacking corps is 'stacked'
CHAMPAIGN — Sporting a shaved head, Jonathan Brown loses the competition for most hair among the Illinois linebacking corps.
Sophomores Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina both are sporting shaggy brown hair, much like J Leman had during his Illinois career.
"I think that's (their) style," Brown said with a laugh Monday evening after Illinois finished its first official day of practice. "The shaved head kind of locks me in and gets my focus where it needs to be."
His shoulder is healthy. So are his legs.
The Memphis, Tenn., native dealt with both issues last year.
"It's good, man," Brown said. "We rehabbed every day, so come Aug. 31, I'm going to be 100 percent."
But Brown isn't concerned about his total tackles. They dropped from 108 in 2011 to 59 last year.
Wins are the only numbers Brown — who is on three preseason award watch lists — said he is concerned with.
"I've been blessed," he said. "There's a lot of people watching me now, but that's not going to mean anything if we don't win any games. That's my biggest thing right now."
Brown feels confident about the linebackers he will play alongside this fall.
"At the linebacker position, we're really stacked," he said. "On the defensive side of the ball, we're jelling pretty good, and it looks like from what I saw (Monday), the offense is clicking well, too."
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks knows his defense is young. With Brown and defensive end Tim Kynard the only two seniors who should start, he's right.
"I'm going to be a broken record, and (the media) is going to hate me because I'm going to say the exact same thing," Banks said. "We're extremely young, but the guys are excited, and they've got a lot of enthusiasm. To me, you can always build off that. Is there going to be some learning curves? Absolutely, but I'm enjoying the challenge, and I know our young guys are enjoying the challenge. It's just Day 1, but if we continue to play at the same tempo that we're playing at right now, we've got a chance."
The Blue squad took to the practice field on the side of Memorial Stadium and started around 4:15 p.m. and ended shortly after 6 p.m.
Made up mostly of reserves, backup quarterback Reilly O'Toole took the majority of snaps, with running back Josh Ferguson and wide receiver Miles Osei, two possible starters on offense, getting reps.
"Obviously, the first day out, you're going to be a little shaky," O'Toole said. "With the younger guys, I remember my first college practice, I was swimming and didn't really know where to go. I was just running hard and just followed people, but in my third go-around, I felt a little bit more comfortable and tried to help the younger guys and make sure they were in the right spot."
What was learned
Aaron Bailey left a meaningful first impression on the veteran players.
All the speculation about the freshman's arm strength wasn't evident to Tim Beckman during the morning session.
Ryan Lankford echoed the sentiment when he spoke with reporters after the conclusion of Monday's late afternoon practice.
"I like Aaron a lot," the senior wide receiver said. "Aaron's a good guy off the field, and he can throw the ball real well. It surprises me sometimes with the things that he can do with his arm."
With Lankford pulling in a team-high 469 receiving yards last season, the immediate respect factor for Illinois wideouts isn't there.
Bring it on, Lankford said.
"We feed off that," he said. "We like to keep it as a little chip on our shoulder and something that gives us a little extra boost, a little reason to work even that much harder and prove people wrong."
What was said
"He's going to be a tough guy that can give us some strong minutes inside (and) some strong minutes at the end position just because he's so strong and physical. He'll be able to contribute. Will he be Reggie White and lead the Big Ten in sacks? I hope so, but right now he's earning his stripes and just being a good run defender for us at this point."
— Banks on junior college transfer defensive lineman Abe Cajuste