CHAMPAIGN — Illinois might have to contend with an injury to one of its starters.
Eric Finney, the projected starter at the STAR position, was carted off the practice field at the end of Wednesday morning’s practice with an apparent knee injury.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman didn’t know the extent of the injury the junior college transfer from Corona, Calif., suffered and didn’t indicate which knee Finney hurt.
“Doctors will find out more as we go,” Beckman said. “We’ll see what happens. Right now it was more towards the knee area.”
Beckman and defensive coordinator Tim Banks both said they didn’t see the injury take place.
“I’ll have to look at film to see how it actually happened,” Beckman said.
Finney, who has three years of eligibility after coming in from College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., missed the 2012 season because of a knee injury.
“I’m sure he’ll be OK,” Banks said.
B.J. Bello, who redshirted the 2012 season, is Finney’s backup at the hybrid linebacker/defensive back position.
After two days of only shorts, jerseys and helmets, shoulder pads were added to the players’ wardrobe on Wednesday morning.
Inside linebackers coach Mike Ward led the team through a tackling drill, which emphasized on players wrapping up.
The team ran through 11-on-11 drills without any tackling during the 30-minute period media is allowed to watch practice.
“Guys flew around,” Banks said. “We’ve got a couple different wrinkles that we’ve installed, and for the most part, they understood and were in the right spots. The mentality with pads on is obviously a little bit different, so we’re still obviously continuing to raise the bar to make sure we’re being as physical as we possibly can be.”
Full pads are expected to come out on Friday morning when the team has its only full-squad practice of the week.
The new targeting rule in effect this season is a topic Beckman has broached with his team numerous times.
Beckman said he shows the team two images before every practice of what officials are looking at when it comes to hits near the head and neck area.
Officials are more likely to eject a player, along with issuing a 15-yard penalty, for such violations this season.
“With the officials really looking and taking that into account, we over-officiated practice,” he said. “If there’s things that are close to targeting, we remove those players immediately, so that we learn right now. The first day (with shoulder) pads there were a couple of those issues.”
And the Orange team switched up its look, wearing orange jersey tops instead of blue like all offensive players have worn the first two days of practice.
Beckman kept up the trend of rotating quarterbacks, putting Reilly O’Toole in the morning practice with freshmen Aaron Bailey and Man Berg.
Nathan Scheelhaase, Wes Lunt and Chase Haslett should work out with the Blue team this afternoon.
What was learned
The sight of officals isn’t overwhelming so far at Illinois practices.
But one or two referees are at every practice, mostly working when the team goes to a 7-on-7 scrimmage near the end.
One of the officials who is a consistent presence is David Behm.
The St. Thomas More cross country coach is getting in a little work in before his Sabers, who won the Class 1A boys’ state title last fall while the girls’ team placed 19th, start practice next week.
Behm, a high school official, got the gig after talking to a few college officials he knows.
“They needed some people, so I decided I’d come out and do the early one,” Behm said. “I’m an early bird anyway, so I get some exercise in. It’s great to see the Illini team and the whole coaching staff work towards what their goals are. Just to help out anyway I can is awesome.”
Behm fills in where he can during the high school season, but his primary focus in the fall, when he’s not coaching the Sabers, is taking in his son’s football games at Unity.
Hiley Freeman will be a junior this fall for the Rockets after he started at tight end last year for the Class 3A state runner-ups.
Behm knows the Sabers’ boys’ cross country team will have its work cut out if it wants to repeat as state champions.
Having five of the top seven runners back, though, should help out.
Plus, having seniors Nick Hess, Sam Powers and Brendan Remington return is a boost.
Behm said Hess and Powers are hearing from several Division I schools like Illinois, Missouri, Bradley, Southern Illinois and Illinois State while Remington is generating college interest, too.
“There’s a little bit of pressure, but I feel more pressure than they do,” Behm said. “They’re pretty loose. I’ve got some younger guys that have stepped in and have really put in the work this summer. We could be better than last year. Certainly, our top three are going to be incredible if we stay healthy.”
What was said
“The first day in pads, I thought we weren’t as physical as we needed to be at all. We were maybe a little bit hesitant, but it’s all new stuff. It looked OK. I wouldn’t give it any better than that right now.”
— Illinois tight ends coach Alex Golesh on how the tight ends practiced Wednesday morning.