Daniels: Illini QBs not slowing down this summer
CHAMPAIGN — They won’t spend every minute of their summer analyzing Bill Cubit’s offensive playbook.
Or watching film.
Or speculating on which one will start Aug. 30 against Youngstown State.
Wes Lunt, Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey all want to emerge as the guy Tim Beckman picks to lead the Illinois offense this fall.
But they will relax at some point in the next three months before practices start the first week of August.
O’Toole is heading to Ireland for a vacation.
Lunt will spend some time water-skiing at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
Bailey plans to slip and slide his way down a few waterpark rides in the Wisconsin Dells.
While away from campus and out of the state, they likely won’t find out who the starter is.
Beckman said there is no timeline when he will name one after Nathan Scheelhaase started 22 of Beckman’s first 24 games as Illinois coach, missing only two because of an ankle injury.
“There doesn’t need to be a timeline,” Beckman said with the season opener 105 days away. “We’ve got three great guys competing. They’re great people. They’ve worked extremely hard.”
They’ll work this summer, too.
Conditioning and weight training begin June 9 before continuing the next eight weeks.
“It’s a lot easier being in the offense for the second year,” said O’Toole, who will have the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons for the first time in his Illinois career. “We’re a lot further than we were at this point last year just as an offense. That’s exciting going into the summer. Hopefully we can take even bigger steps in the summer like we did last year. That’s what our focus is on right now.”
All have made adjustments since last season.
O’Toole wants to get the ball out quicker.
Lunt has added about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle to his frame since he started five games as a true freshman at Oklahoma State in 2012.
Bailey is grasping more of the offense after having a limited role last season.
Opinions vary on whether Bailey, a gifted option-style quarterback at Bolingbrook, should change positions if he doesn’t win the starting quarterback job.
“With Aaron Bailey,” Beckman said, “all we’ve ever talked about is playing quarterback.”
Beckman’s statement should end that debate. For now.
All three experienced the pinnacle of their high school careers at Memorial Stadium.
Lunt won two state titles at Rochester, the same number O’Toole won at Wheaton Warrenville South, and Bailey enjoyed the feeling of winning one his junior season at Bolingbrook.
Now one of them will get the chance to display the skills that made them elite quarterback recruits throughout an entire season at Illinois.
“The main difference (between high school and college) is probably just the media and how your every move is heard about,” Lunt said. “A lot of the pressure, too, is what you put on yourself. I know I put a lot of pressure on myself to be successful, so you’ve got to not let that affect your play.”
Like Lunt, Bailey welcomes the increased expectations.
“We have a limited scope of being a D-I athlete, so anything you do or anything you say can be held against you, but I feel if you take it with a grain of salt, it’ll be OK,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot more pressure, but it’s a good pressure.”
Even though many predict Lunt will win the starting job, O’Toole has taken on more of a vocal role with the Illini.
The personalities of Lunt and Bailey are a bit more laid-back and reserved. At least at this stage in their college careers.
“In years past, you try to be a leader, but you don’t feel as comfortable saying something as a sophomore or a junior, at least for me,” O’Toole said. “Being a senior, I feel like I have one of the better understandings of the offense, so I feel real confident in getting people in the right places. It’s a lot easier for me to say something to the guys or to get on them more than in years past.”
Ask all three who has the strongest arm, and the consensus is clear.
Lunt and O’Toole both give it to Bailey — whose major knock coming out of Bolingbrook was his passing — before Bailey has the chance to offer his input.
“I didn’t really get to display my arm (in high school), but I didn’t really care what people said or thought because I knew what I had,” Bailey said. “I wasn’t trying to prove anything. When I get the opportunity, I just make the most of it.”
A year ago, Lunt was sorting through college options after he announced he was leaving Oklahoma State.
Bailey was still in high school.
And O’Toole was about to start another offseason backing up Scheelhaase. Much has changed since then, and much more will change for one of the three by the time the 2014 season starts.
“When everyone gets here, you’re just trying to find your classes and be on time for everything,” Lunt said. “I feel a lot more comfortable being here, and it’s different that I actually get to compete here now.”
Compete is the big buzzword Beckman has floated out there the last five months when it relates to the Illinois quarterback job.
The trio will have more chances to do so this summer without the coaches watching when they gather wide receivers and other teammates for throwing sessions.
“We have things set up here and stuff scheduled already,” O’Toole said. “If you need to work with a particular receiver on your own, you set that up, but during the summer we’ll need all three sets of eyes and arms. We know the offense better than anybody. And it helps us out. A view from the sideline or back 10 yards is a lot different than being under center or in the shotgun.”
A view from the sideline is not where Lunt, O’Toole or Bailey wants to find himself this season.
They’re competitors, after all.
Two, however, will have to watch while the other one leads the offense.
“Regardless when he does or when he doesn’t name a starter, personally, it’s not going to change how I prepare,” O’Toole said. “It doesn’t really matter to me.”
Lunt agreed with O’Toole’s statement, and Bailey echoed those sentiments.
Another item they all agree on is their desire to lift Illinois back into the national college football conversation.
In order to do so, how the quarterback plays is crucial. To say the least.
“We’re not expected to be a top team, so it’s going to be fun to work hard this summer and see what happens,” Lunt said. “There’s just a lot on the QB in this offense because you have so much responsibility out there.”