Daniels: Lunt looks like starter
CHAMPAIGN — Wearing a red No. 12 jersey, Wes Lunt was the most-watched Illinois player late in the afternoon Monday.
And had the biggest media scrum surrounding any Illini after the first preseason practice of the 2014 season ended.
For good reason.
It appears the crowning of Lunt as the starting quarterback, ahead of likely backups Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey, may come in the next two weeks. Perhaps before Camp Rantoul ends Aug. 18.
“We want to try to determine our quarterback, so I’d like to do that probably right after Rantoul and two scrimmages,” Illini coach Tim Beckman said. “Our players understand what time frame we’re in. We played at Toledo with two quarterbacks all the time, and everybody used to talk about that. Well, the players know when they’re coming in.”
Illinois is slated to have a scrimmage each of the next two Saturdays, along with a half scrimmage the first day of practice next Monday in Rantoul. Beckman didn’t pinpoint an exact date when a starting quarterback will be announced. But he likely won’t have to deal with any questions the week leading up to the season opener against Youngstown State about who replaces Nathan Scheelhaase.
“I thought Wes looked really good and threw some really nice balls,” Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “I just told him before he went out there to play with his eyes and just keep on looking off because it’s been a long time since he was throwing. He went out there, and you could just tell the kids trust him when he’s out there.”
Wide receiver Justin Hardee echoed those sentiments. With a bold proclamation.
“Wes looks wonderful,” Hardee said. “I compare him to the best in college football. If he’s up for the Heisman, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Lunt isn’t letting the preseason talk engulf him.
“I would love to start, but you’ve just got to take it day by day,” Lunt said. “Reilly and Aaron are very talented quarterbacks. The best guy will win.”
Getting started. First impressions are what Illinois made Monday. No hitting ensued because players weren’t in pads. They’ll likely don shoulder pads and shorts starting Wednesday before full pads come out Friday.
Illinois is spending the first four days of practice this week with a split squad before the first practice involving the entire team happens Friday night. Lunt and the Orange squad went through paces from 4 until 5:30 p.m. Monday, with the Blue squad, featuring O’Toole and Bailey, practicing from 8 until 9:30 p.m. Monday.
“The differences in the times is all dealing with class,” Beckman said, with players involved in class and study time each day this week from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Four players, running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young and tight ends Matt LaCosse and Tyler White, are slated to alternate practices with both teams.
“It should be good,” Ferguson said. “It doesn’t matter to me. Football is football. It will be fun being with different people.”
Field adjustments. If you drive down Kirby Avenue the rest of this week, chances are you won’t see any hint of Illinois practice outside Memorial Stadium. It appears the remaining nine practices Illinois will have this week will all take place inside Memorial Stadium. The grass practice field on the east side of the stadium wasn’t in the best shape, with mud present along with some slick conditions.
“We won’t be back out here in the swamp,” Beckman said. “It was nobody’s fault. With not having enough heat (to) really (grow) the Bermuda. I don’t understand how grass is done. I usually just mow it.”
All kidding aside, Beckman ended the first practice a few minutes early because of injury concerns before Illinois practiced Monday night under the lights at Memorial Stadium.
“I just didn’t want to see anything happen,” Beckman said.
Injury watch. There wasn’t a bevy of Illini in purple or green jerseys Monday. Players wear purple jerseys to indicate they can’t practice. Green jerseys mean limited contact during practice. During Monday’s first practice session, only wide receiver Dionte Taylor and defensive back Darwyn Kelly had purple jerseys on.