Daniels: Wednesday's practice update
Three things beat writer MATT DANIELS picked up on Wednesday, the Illinois football team’s fifth spring practice:
1 QB talk. Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit didn’t announce Wednesday who the starting quarterback is at Illinois. But he did offer some insight into how the race between Wes Lunt, Aaron Bailey and Reilly O’Toole might play out.
“We’ll make a determination at the end of next week about what we’re going to do with the reps,” Cubit said. “Maybe some reps will be cut, and if they’re playing better their reps will go up.”
The trio has alternated snaps with the starters and backups thus far in spring practices.
Bailey and O’Toole are eager to see how the Illinois men’s basketball team fares at 11 a.m. this morning against Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“I’ll definitely try and watch the game if I have time, but I’m mostly an NBA fan,” said Bailey, who counts Kobe Bryant as his favorite pro. “Illinois is starting to play real well and starting to get a little more confidence.”
O’Toole said he’ll tune in today after workouts, and likes what he has seen from John Groce’s program recently.
“They’ve proven that they can beat the big-name teams like Michigan State,” O’Toole said. “They’re playing a lot better now than they were at the beginning of the year. They were fun to watch in the tournament last year. We’re all rooting for them.”
O’Toole, who spent part of his childhood in Kansas, is a tad concerned about how his Jayhawks may do this month. Especially since big man Joel Embiid will miss the Big 12 tournament and possibly the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
“They’ve been struggling without him,” O’Toole said, “but they’re already in the tournament.”
The NCAA tournament will likely surface in conversation among Illinois football players next week once the brackets are unveiled on Sunday evening. Even if Illinois isn’t one of the teams in the field.
“Obviously, there’s no betting, but just good trash talk,” O’Toole said. “It’s fun to say, ‘Hey, my team beat your team,’ and people from out of state who grew up watching one team will cheer for that school. You want Illinois to do well just because that’s our school, but there’s 68 teams.”
2 Lovely weather. The unpredictable weather this winter forced Illinois back inside to the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility on Wednesday. Memorial Stadium and the outdoor grass practice field on the east side of Memorial Stadium were covered in snow.
Illinois isn’t scheduled to get a break from the elements at its next practice on Friday evening, taking to the turf field at 5:30 p.m. at Gately Stadium in Chicago. Weather permitting, that is.
“It’s got to be something really bad,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said about the possibility of canceling Friday’s trip. “I can make the decision (Thursday afternoon), but it’s all go (currently). We’re hoping for some sun and some heat to make sure that the field is clear.”
Playing at the historic high school football stadium allowed plenty of recruits to attend last year’s practice. The event is open for any interested fans, but those who do venture out to the South Side facility will most likely need to bundle up. Temperatures are expected to drop into the low 30s by the time the practice wraps up shortly before 8 p.m.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to showcase what Illinois football is all about,” Beckman said.
If Friday’s practice goes on as planned, it will only be the second time Illinois has practiced outside this spring session, but the second time this week after Monday morning’s practice took place at Memorial Stadium.
“The only good part about (Wednesday’s snow) is we were inside,” O’Toole said. “It was rough on Monday. I’m not the best guy in the cold. My hands get cold real easily, so thankfully someone went in and got me a hand warmer. The first few periods were tough, especially after being inside with perfect conditions. It took a lot to get used to, but then again, it’s football. You play outside.”
3 Time to scrimmage. Cubit did not like how the offense performed during the team’s first scrimmage of the spring on Wednesday morning.
“We weren’t very good,” he said. “I thought the defense rose, and I think our kids just went out there like it was a regular practice. We did a few things here and there, but not what our standard is.”
Cubit said before spring practices began he thought Illinois could produce the best offense in the Big Ten this fall.
Those words might still prove prophetic, but too many turnovers against a defense not exactly known for causing takeaways last year didn’t sit too well with Cubit. Wide receiver Geronimo Allison (arm) did not practice Wednesday, which didn’t help matters with the offense.
“Right now he may be the best guy we’ve got out there,” Cubit said of Allison. “Some other guys need to step up, and they didn’t. That was really disappointing. Like I told them, ‘We didn’t throw it real well, we didn’t catch it real well, we didn’t run through routes real well, we didn’t run hard and we didn’t block real well. Besides that, you did OK.’ It just wasn’t very good.”
Beckman was pleased to see the number of turnovers the defense forced, along with what he thought was better tackling in space. Cubit will be pleased Friday night if the offense puts Wednesday’s poor performance behind it.
“I want to find out Friday how they’re going to come back and what they’re going to show up there in Chicago,” Cubit said. “It really doesn’t make a difference if we’re at Gately or Soldier Field. I could care less. The kids have got to improve.”
O’Toole understands why his coordinator was frustrated after Wednesday’s practice.
“We’ve got to get everyone playing on the same level of understanding the offense,” he said. “Once we do that, we’ll be rolling. There are glimpses, but early on, there are going to be times where you look awful. We’ve got to maintain focus throughout the whole practice.”