RANTOUL — With darkness settled in on Field 2 at Camp Rantoul, Tim Beckman still wanted to play more football.
“We were thinking about pulling cars up here and putting lights out,” the Illinois coach said half-joking after the Illini went through its lone public scrimmage while in Rantoul on Monday evening. “We did beat the rain, but we didn’t beat the darkness, that’s for sure.”
No official stats were kept as the Illini worked through different situations — red zone offense, overtime scenarios and more — at the practice field. The scrimmage was cut short because no lights were on the field, a casualty of not getting an NCAA waiver approved to have the scrimmage at Rantoul Township High School’s Bill Walsh Field as initially planned.
What was clear, though, even without a final tally of how quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase, Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey fared, was this: Bill Cubit wants to throw the ball.
Deep. Intermediate. Short. Doesn’t matter.
“Let’s go out there, chuck it around and have some good times,” Cubit said. “That’s what’s great about the scrimmage. You want to see what your guys can do.”
More big plays on offense is what Illinois wants to see more of this season.
Monday evening was a start.
— Like Scheelhaase hitting Ryan Lankford on a 97-yard touchdown pass. Lankford caught the ball near midfield, broke a tackle from Darius Mosely and sprinted into the end zone.
“We came out of the huddle pretty quick and took a shot,” Scheelhaase said. “That’s going to be the difference is taking those big plays and making them into scores. That’s what our offense needs.”
Fine by Lankford.
“It was just a one-man route,” Lankford said. “They told me to just run it down. I didn’t come out here and practice the way I wanted to practice in the beginning. That was definitely a way for me to say, ‘Just relax, you know what you’re doing. Just play ball.’ ”
— Or Bailey finding fellow freshman Marchie Murdock on two touchdown passes — 23 yards and 25 yards — on successive plays.
“I thought he played well,” Cubit said of the freshman. “He’s still a little rough around the edges at times there where he does things people up in the stands probably wouldn’t see, but he’s coming along.”
— And Donovonn Young showcasing the north-south approach Cubit wants out of his backs. Particularly when he ran over defensive back Davontay Kwaaning on a 13-yard run to put Illinois at the 1-yard line. But the Texas native wasn’t satisfied.
“That was a good run, but I want to be able to finish that type of run and get in the end zone,” Young said. “I was so close, and as a running back and a playmaker, I want to do more.”
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Jonathan Brown didn’t have a purple jersey on to indicate he was injured. Or a green one worn so players should know to avoid contact with said player.
The starting linebacker sported a white No. 45 jersey, shoulder pads and orange shorts, much like the rest of the Illinois defense Monday morning.
He had the same getup Monday evening, but he didn’t take the field.
For good reason.
Beckman disclosed after Monday’s scrimmage that Brown — who missed the final three games last year with a shoulder injury — is out with a minor concussion, same with tight end Matt LaCosse. Beckman said the two suffered the injuries a few days ago, and said LaCosse should return Wednesday. He did not give a timeline for when he expects Brown to return.
“We’re making sure that he’s 100 percent healthy before he steps out there on the football field,” Beckman said. “It’s just our protocol. We’re in this business for the student-athlete. We’re not going to put anybody out on the field we don’t feel is healthy.”
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Cubit wasn’t particularly impressed with the play of the Illinois quarterbacks on Monday morning.
“I didn’t think they played really well,” he said. “There was some high pressure at the end, which I think we’ve got to react to them a lot better. We’ve got to get the wideouts having a little more sense of urgency.”
Cubit said he was pleased with O’Toole early on in practice. Scheelhaase, O’Toole and Bailey took most of the repetitions when Illinois went through game-like situations later in the morning session. Scheelhaase and O’Toole had nearly the same number of reps, with Bailey handling fewer snaps.
“What you don’t want to do is get him really frustrated,” Cubit said of Bailey. “You try and make those reps successful for him so he can feel more comfortable. We’ve always done that with a freshman.”
Cubit was anxious to see how his quarterbacks would handle a scrimmage environment later Monday night.
“When things are flying all over the place, we’ll see how they react,” Cubit said. “What our quarterbacks have got to see is we’ve got it all picked up. Just be calm. Everything’s going to work out, and the wideouts have to go win routes.”
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Getting enough repetitions for true freshmen like cornerbacks Jaylen Dunlap and Mosely is a focus for Beckman.
During parts of Monday’s practice, the two Class of 2013 signees worked in with the starters.
“Right now, just because of the youth again, we’re playing with some young guys,” Beckman said. “We’ll have some corners out there, and they’ll be freshmen.”
Beckman praised Dunlap’s efforts last week during the first week of practice in Champaign. He did so again after watching the Crete-Monee product practice Monday morning.
“This proves the way he’s been practicing,” Beckman said. “He’s been practicing extremely hard. He’s been very well-coached, and he was able to come in here, worked hard this summer and got himself ready for camp. He’s proven within eight days that he’s a pretty good football player.”
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Family is a big point of emphasis when it comes to Beckman. He noted it on Sunday when the Illinois coaches and their families were brought together for a photo in the Memorial Stadium stands during the team’s Media Day.
Beckman’s father, Dave, was a presence on the first day of Camp Rantoul in 2012. He’s set to watch practice on this afternoon when Illinois goes from 4:15 to 6:15 p.m.
“My dad will be here giving me an earful,” Beckman joked. “We’re excited about it. I love Rantoul.”
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Miles Osei and Peter Bonahoom are veterans of the Camp Rantoul experience.
Not only because this is the fourth Camp Rantoul for Osei since he arrived at Illinois and third for Bonahoom.
The two Mount Prospect products were regulars in Rantoul during their high school careers with the Knights.
The school — which won three Class 7A state titles at Memorial Stadium last decade and has reached the playoffs 12 straight years — first started camping at Rantoul in 2001.
So staying at the Quarters Inn, having meals at The Linden and staying on the former Chanute Air Force Base wasn’t quite so bad for the duo when they arrived at Illinois.
“That was nice to have that transition be smooth,” Osei said.
For Osei, who enters fall camp for the first time focused solely on wide receiver, this is his final Camp Rantoul
“It will be interesting and bittersweet,” he said. “It’s always hot there and there’s not a whole bunch of stuff there, but it’s cool because you go there from high school through college.”
Bonahoom is trying to find his niche most likely on special teams this year. That his even playing at Illinois almost didn’t materialize, according to Osei.
“I always try to take credit for him continuing to play,” Osei said with a laugh. “We’ve been boys since back in middle school, and he actually tried to quit going into his sophomore year (of high school), so I kind of helped him through that transition of whether he wanted to or not.”
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Several Illinois players have added long hair and bushy beards this offseason.
Namely Spencer Harris, Taylor Barton, Mike Svetina and Mason Monheim. Harris, Barton and Monheim will all live together this school year, along with Houston Bates.
Monheim is growing his hair and beard out for the first time.
His mother, Jan, approves. So far.
“I came home during winter break with a big old beard,” Monheim said. “She doesn’t usually like when I have a beard because I don’t look like her young boy, but she’s just so happy to see me when she can. I think my family kind of likes the long hair.”
Monheim and Svetina agreed after last season that both would start growing their hair out.
“I’m getting used to it, but it’s still kind of a pain at times,” Monheim said, “but I’m going as long as Mike goes. We’ll see what happens.”
Svetina said he is in it for the long haul.
“I think Coach Beckman wants people to be well-groomed and all that, so it was a little shock for him at first,” Svetina said. “I think he’s gotten over it.”
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks doesn’t mind the long hair. Just so their production doesn’t decrease.
“It can come down to their butt for all I care,” Banks said with a laugh. “They like it. They think it’s what they, as young folks, call it swag, so I’m all in if they play well.”
Running back knows this is a big year for him. The last two guys who wore No. 5 (Mikel Leshoure, Rashard Mendenhall) in the backfield have had breakout junior seasons. Young appears ready to take a leap and play a more prominent role in Bill Cubit’ s offense.
The only quarterback Illinois fans haven’t seen in action didn’t disappoint. Freshman quarterback from Bolingbrook didn’t act like a freshman. Play reminds some of Juice Williams. How soon he gets on the field this fall is one aspect worth tracking all season long.
Starting offensive line
Corey Lewis, Ted Karras, Alex Hill, Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic cleared room for Young and allowed Nathan Scheelhaase time to set his feet. Two areas not seen frequently last year.