Matt Daniels: Hot reads from March 21 practice
1. QB update. Illinois won’t practice again for nine days because of the university’s spring break. It doesn’t appear Illinois coach Tim Beckman is any closer to declaring a starting quarterback.
“These last six practices will really show if there’s a true No. 1 or not,” Beckman said. “All three of them have had their ups and their downs.”
Illinois will resume practice March 31, and three of the practices during the final two weeks of spring ball are open to the public. Illinois will travel to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin for a 5:30 p.m. open practice April 4 and hold an open practice at 8 p.m. April 10 at Memorial Stadium in conjunction with the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Clinic before the spring game at 2 p.m. April 12.
Beckman said Wes Lunt graded out during the team’s scrimmage Wednesday morning. Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey did not grade out, but Beckman said the two other quarterbacks nearly graded out.
Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said Bailey is nursing a slight knee injury and held him out of a few reps during Friday’s practice at Memorial Stadium.
“I thought the last three days Wes has been really good,” Cubit said. “I thought he played really well (Friday). Reilly is doing what we’re expecting him to do and really managing the system. We’ve got to sit down with Beck and say, ‘Do we move some reps here and there?’ Every throw they make, they’re evaluated on, along with all their checks and all their decisions and their accuracy. There’s a lot that goes into that, and I think it’s time to sit back, evaluate it all and go from there.”
2. Spring break. Before players started leaving Champaign-Urbana on Friday, Beckman had a message for his team.
He shared news stories about Indiana wide receiver Isaac Griffith, who is in critical condition at a Florida hospital after a swimming accident earlier this week. Police in Florida said Griffith and his friends consumed alcohol before the incident.
“Spring break is, as I told them, for family,” said Beckman, who plans to visit his daughter Lindsay, a junior at Oklahoma State. “That’s what I’m using it for. The great ones in this game utilize spring break as a break from football, but not as a break from the mental part of football.”
Cubit said he stays in touch frequently with players during breaks to make sure they arrive safely at their destinations.
“When they get back, it’s like a sigh of relief,” he said. “I’ve got kids that are texting me every day letting me know where they are and when they’re getting in. When you see them (back) on Sunday, it’s kind of like seeing your own son.”
Aside from spending time with their families, players said having a week off from practice isn’t exactly a bad thing.
“It’ll be nice to rest the body, relax and hang out with the family,” O’Toole said. “It’ll be good.”
3. Odds and ends. The offense has left Cubit flustered at times this spring. Not so much Friday.
“I thought we put a big emphasis offensively on starting fast,” Cubit said. “We have not started fast in the scrimmages. We had a big meeting (Thursday) and a pep talk. We did some things early in practice to get the pace going. I think it really, really helped.”
O’Toole said he noticed a difference, too.
“It felt like there was a lot more excitement and more energy than a few practices in the past,” O’Toole said. “One thing we’ve been working on is coming out and playing fast. We did a lot better job of that (Friday) instead of having that lull at the beginning of practice and taking a couple of periods to get into it.”
— Beckman said junior college transfer Joe Fotu will start practicing at defensive tackle when the team returns to Champaign. The Oakland native had worked almost exclusively at defensive end the first two weeks of spring ball.
“Fotu has probably been the most pleasant surprise,” Beckman said.
— Jake Howe and Austin Teitsma have received the most playing time at defensive tackle with the starters so far. Teko Powell (foot) is expected to start practicing full-go at the position after spring break.
“He’s had nine practices where he hasn’t been involved in,” Beckman said. “He’s been doing conditioning and those sorts of things. I told him, ‘This week is crucial for you. It ain’t spring break for you. It’s time to get your body and your mind right to get back out there.’ ”
— The NCAA tournament games are on in the background of the Illinois football offices the past two days. Beckman said he was able to watch most of the NIT win Illinois had Wednesday night at Boston. Along with getting some exercise in the process.
“I’ve come home with this new thing where I’m counting my steps,” he said. “My wife and I are having this competition where we’ve got to get 10,000 steps in a day. I was down by about 500 steps, (but) ... I was pacing the kitchen back and forth while watching the Illinois game, so I got my 10,000 steps.”