Daniels: Brown watching, waiting (w/videos)
RANTOUL — Jonathan Brown sat out Tuesday’s late afternoon practice at Camp Rantoul.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman is using extra caution while the senior linebacker recovers from a concussion he sustained during the weekend.
“We’re not going to put him out there until we see he’s fit,” Beckman said. “He’s symptom-free now, and with the concussion issues, we want to make sure that our players are healthy. We’re going to abide by the protocol for concussions, so he’s not ready right now.”
Brown sported a purple jersey at the practice field on Tuesday, signifying he’s injured, but Beckman said he could go through a few reps during practice today, but won’t tackle. Tight end Matt LaCosse is also recovering from a concussion and did not practice Tuesday during a breezy, and sometimes chilly, two-hour workout.
“Matt did some more (Tuesday), so that he can get back out on the practice field,” Beckman said. “It’s kind of the progress that we go through. They’re all pre-tested, and they must pass a test when they have a concussion. We put them through individual-type workouts until they can get back out on the practice field.”
Illinois is set to practice twice today, first at 9 a.m. and then again at 4:15 p.m. after only practicing once Tuesday. Today marks the first practice day in full pads at Camp Rantoul after two practices in shells (shoulder pads, helmets and shorts).
Sophomore Zepheniah Grimes worked in with the starters during Monday evening’s scrimmage in Brown’s absence and did so again Tuesday.
“It’s all good,” Grimes said. “I’m just getting better and better each day. I’m still learning from (Brown), so he helps me out.”
Beckman said Grimes is holding his own with the starters.
“His progress from practice one back in the spring to now is really night-and-day,” Beckman said. “He’s really done a great job and continues to improve his game.”
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Tuesday was likely the only day Illinois players could sleep in at Camp Rantoul.
And an 8 a.m. wakeup call probably isn’t the definition of sleeping in for most college students.
The players lifted in the morning along with watching film from Monday night’s scrimmage by position group and held a brief walkthrough before practicing.
Beckman liked what he saw Tuesday.
“I thought we had a good practice,” Beckman said. “I really did. We got in about 130 scrimmage plays (Monday), so I wanted to make sure we had time to evaluate it, watch it, correct it and then get back out here on the field.”
Beckman said the defensive backups gave up too many big plays during Monday’s scrimmage, an area he wants to see improvement in.
“I thought our (starters) did decent,” he said. “We can do better defensively. We need to continue to progress with the youth (in the reserves) on both sides of the football.”
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Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and former Illini Howard Griffith of the Big Ten Network are slated to take in today’s early-morning practice in Rantoul.
The trio and other members of the BTN production staff have made the rounds so far this month.
The Illinois practice is their eighth stop since the start of last week after watching Northwestern’s training camp in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday. Prior to Tuesday, the trip saw them at Purdue on Monday, Michigan State on Sunday, Michigan on Saturday, Penn State last Thursday, Ohio State last Wednesday and Indiana last Tuesday to kick off the 12-team excursion.
After today’s stop, the trip continues Thursday at Wisconsin and Friday at Minnesota before having a travel weekend to make it to Nebraska’s practice next Monday and Iowa’s practice next Tuesday to wrap up the tour.
The BTN show previewing Illinois is set to air at 7 p.m. on Aug. 21.
“We’re always excited about having BTN (here),” Beckman said. “Another opportunity to showcase our football team.”
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A Chicago Cubs game.
Dinner at Ed Debevic’s.
Or the restaurant with the rude waiters, as wide receiver Steve Hull refers to the popular Chicago destination.
Skydiving the next day. That’s right. Skydiving at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Ill.
Those are the activities Nathan Scheelhaase and his groomsmen, which included teammates like Hull, Ryan Lankford, Miles Osei and Reilly O’Toole, indulged in during Scheelhaase’s bachelor party this summer prior to Scheelhaase’s July 6 wedding in Kansas City, Mo., to high school sweetheart Morgan Miller.
Don’t worry. No “Hangover”-like scenarios transpired for the Illinois contingent, who were all 21 and older when the bachelor party happened, by the way.
“I remember everything,” Hull said. “We’re not heavy drinkers in this group.”
Osei, the best man, sought input from all the groomsmen in what they wanted to do. Even if skydiving isn’t a common bachelor party activity, Osei is a fan of the endeavor. It was his second time skydiving.
“I would be a lot more willing to go skydiving than bungee jumping,” Osei said. “With bungee jumping, you could get caught on the cord or anything like that.”
Scheelhaase was just glad he could include some of his teammates in his big day.
He met Osei when he hosted the former quarterback on his official visit and roomed with Hull his freshman year.
“It was a nice getaway for all of us,” Scheelhaase said. “It was right in the middle of the summer workouts. Having them all back there in my hometown was just a lot of fun. We enjoy being around each other,”
“That bond has been very strong since Day 1,” he said. “We’ve grown a great friendship together that will last long after football.”
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Houston Bates is quite alright with his position move.
He’ll still have some linebacker responsibilities at his new home, the Leo, but will more than likely focus his efforts on rushing the passer during the 2013 season.
“I love it,” the Louisiana native said. “It takes me back to my high school days. I played defensive end in high school, so I like having my hand on the ground and being in the trenches. I like it a lot better than linebacker.”
Beckman has liked what he’s seen so far from Bates, who has started two games each of the last two seasons.
“He does a great job of understanding the fits, understanding where his leverage must be, and then his first two steps are quick,” Beckman said. “It’s great to see him playing that Leo position, which gives him an opportunity to rush the passer a little more than he did last year at linebacker.”
Hull is another player adapting to a position switch, although his is more significant just because he’ll line up at wide receiver after three seasons at safety.
“It’s really comforting,” he said. “That’s what I came here to play. Being with this group of guys that I’m with at receiver, having Coach (Mike) Bellamy and the offense that Coach (Bill) Cubit is installing, it’s really exciting to be a part of.”
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Cubit has displayed plenty of different formations during his seven-month tenure as the Illinois offensive coordinator.
Including those involving a fullback. Even if Illinois doesn’t have a true fullback.
Tight ends Jon Davis, Evan Wilson, LaCosse and Tim Clary have rotated in at fullback when Illinois comes out in an I-formation.
With Davis’ injury history and LaCosse’s concussion that has sidelined him so far at Camp Rantoul, Wilson and Clary are getting the most repetitions right now as the lead blocker for Donovonn Young, Josh Ferguson and Dami Ayoola.
“If guys are good blockers, they’re going to block,” Illinois tight ends coach Alex Golesh said. “If guys are good receivers, they’re going to catch balls. We’re trying to do a good job of not putting guys in spots where they can’t get it done.”
Clary, a walk-on from Richmond-Burton High School who played last fall at the University of Dubuque, a Division III school in Iowa, was a nice surprise from the spring game. With Davis and LaCosse out with injuries, he not only lined up at fullback in certain situations, but had five catches for 51 yards and a 12-yard touchdown grab.
“I’m used to putting my hand down, and I was a pulling guard my freshman year in high school, so I’m used to getting outside and blocking them outside,” Clary said. “The change isn’t different. I think all our tight ends can do it. The shorter body size I have compared to Evan and Matt, who are both 6-6, helps me a little bit more, and J.D. does really well at it, too. Besides that, it’s not a hard change.”
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Clary is soaking in his first preseason camp with Illinois. The sophomore said support from his friends and family have helped him while he tries to make the unlikely leap from Division III football to the Big Ten.
“I want to make my parents proud,” Clary said. “They mean the world to me, and without them I probably wouldn’t even be here.”
Getting on the field is the next step. Clary knows it’s a long shot. Right now. He sits behind Davis, Wilson and LaCosse on the depth chart. But he’s glad for the opportunity. And playing with a renewed sense of purpose.
“That last week of spring ball really gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “A lot of people telling me I performed well gave me a mental side that I didn’t have prior to that. I want to play. It’s not really my decision, but I’m going to let my game show.”