Three things beat writer MATT DANIELS picked up on Tuesday, the Illinois football team’s 13th spring practice:
Mum on starting QB. Tim Beckman attempted his best prevent defense when it came to media inquiring about the starting quarterback job. The Illinois coach deflected questions during his Tuesday afternoon press conference about when he’ll name a starter among Wes Lunt, Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey, and who might emerge as said starter.
“It’s been a great battle,” said Beckman, who indicated Lunt and O’Toole graded out after Friday night’s scrimmage at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin but Bailey did not. “This Saturday will be another great opportunity to compete for that starting quarterback position.”
Saturday afternoon’s spring game is the final practice for the Illini until early August rolls around. Beckman said he isn’t concerned if he picks a starting quarterback by the end of spring ball or if the job isn’t fully secure until practices start again four months from now.
“We’ve got a week prior to us going out on the road recruiting, and that will be a major topic we’ll be talking about, as well as all positions,” Beckman said. “All have done a great job as we’ve progressed through these 13 practices. I don’t think I can jump out and say right now who’s going to start, but that’s why you compete.”
More QB talk. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit will have significant input on who the starting quarterback is. It’s a conversation Beckman looks forward to having.
“Honestly, me and Bill haven’t sat down and really talked about it,” Beckman said. “We’ve let these guys compete and let them run with the ones, twos and threes. All of them have had experience with a starting wide receiver or a walk-on wide receiver. They’ve all three been put in those situations. We’ll sit down after spring and continue to evaluate and then make our decision if we need to make one right then, or if we need to hold off until two-a-days (in the fall).”
O’Toole said having all three vie for the starting spot has elevated his game this spring.
“I feel like I’ve had a pretty good spring, and Wes and Aaron have had great springs as well,” O’Toole said. “Obviously you have to go out there focused every single day knowing your assignments and being ready to play every single practice because it’s an audition. You want to do your best. You can’t really have any off days.”
O’Toole isn’t complaining that no starter has been declared yet.
“It’d be cool to know or say who it is right now,” O’Toole said with a smile, “but regardless, we’re still going to keep competing no matter who’s the starter and who’s not. The guys in that room just push each other to be as best as they can be. I think that’s great. I like how we’ve had that going.”
Turn the corner. Depth was a concern at certain position groups last season. Still is this season in some areas. Not really at cornerback, though.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who can play that position,” said Beckman, who coaches the cornerbacks.
Guys like projected starters V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence. And guys like Darius Mosely, Jaylen Dunlap and Caleb Day. The three sophomores — Spence and Bentley are juniors — all saw the field for extended time last fall as true freshmen.
Dunlap had offseason shoulder surgery and has had limited contact this spring, but Mosely and Day are pushing both Spence and Bentley. Day in particular.
“Right now it’s more of me just playing rather than thinking,” said Day, the only four-star recruit on the defensive side of the ball with the Illini’s Class of 2013. “Last year I was really thinking a lot because I wasn’t sure all the time since it was a new program. I feel I’m doing better with that this spring.”
Day said no hard feelings exist between all the corners in the mix for playing time.
“It’s friendly competition,” Day said. “We’re not mad at each other. We make ourselves better that we want the best out there, so we’re all trying our hardest.”
Day was projected to play safety when he arrived at Illinois. He still might at some point in his career, but is content in shifting to cornerback after Beckman and defensive coordinator Tim Banks felt he could contribute there more last season.
“At safety, you pretty much have to know the whole defense,” Day said. “Me coming in as a freshman, nerves kind of got to me a little bit. Coach Beckman and Coach Banks felt I would do better at corner, which was probably a good move for me. I like it, and it’s going pretty well for me. I’m not a selfish person, so I try to coach up (the other cornerbacks) as much I can. This year I’m planning on working and competing. If I do that, hopefully the coaches will see I belong on the field.”