Young Illini strutting their stuff
CHAMPAIGN — Tim Beckman won’t come out and say it.
But the split-squad rosters the Illinois coach is working with the first four days of practice feature a heavy dose of likely starters on the Orange team.
And likely reserves on the Blue squad.
Sprinkled in throughout the Orange roster, however, are names Beckman and his assistants were talking heavily about the first Wednesday in February.
Like center Nick Allegretti and wide receiver Malik Turner, two incoming freshmen who didn’t enroll early and have two practices at Memorial Stadium under their belt.
Allegretti is getting the chance to go through drills with the entire starting offensive line.
“He’s a big guy for a freshman,” Illinois right tackle Michael Heitz said. “He’s young, but I think he’ll be a player.”
Turner has the opportunity to work on his route-running with veterans Martize Barr and Justin Hardee.
“He’s a guy who you thought was going to be good, and we hadn’t seen him all summer,” Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “I think he’s got some really good talent out there.”
Another wideout, junior college transfer Tyrin Stone-Davis, is making the transition right now.
Expected to enroll early, Stone-Davis didn’t arrive until this summer because of academic issues.
The Philadelphia native is vying for time in a crowded wideout group that doesn’t have a proven commodity returning.
“He’s getting there,” Beckman said. “Some of these young guys, it just takes them longer, but his learning progression will happen quickly. We’ll try to get him out there as fast as we can.”
Dre Brown was the second commit for Illinois in the Class of 2015.
The DeKalb running back is now the first to sign with the Illini. Based on new NCAA rules that allow players to sign a financial aid agreement as early as Aug. 1 if they plan to enroll early.
Brown is planning to do so and signed his financial aid agreement on Monday, meaning Beckman and any other Illinois coach could talk about him publicly on Tuesday and not break any NCAA rules.
“Dre’s a fun one to talk about because Dre’s been kind of the kingpin of this class,” said Alex Golesh, the Illini’s recruiting coordinator and running backs coach. “The nicest thing about it is we can text him and I can call him. I can shoot Dre a text anytime I want. We’re so fired up to have that kid here.”
Beckman tweeted out a message talking about Brown earlier on Tuesday, raising some eyebrows on social media.
“I know on Twitter when we released it, it got kind of hammered there like we didn’t know what we were doing,” Beckman said. “We know what the rules are. We thought that it was important that everybody in this state realizes that we’ve got one of the top running backs, if not one of the top players in the state, committed to us. We’re excited about having him.”
Quarterback Wes Lunt knew before he even arrived at Illinois he wanted to get bigger.
Experiencing his first college football season with Oklahoma State in 2012 and dealing with injuries made him realize he needed to put in more work in the weight room.
The traditional pocket passer has added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame, and is close to 230 pounds. He played his lone season with the Cowboys at 215.
“We’ll see (how it helps) on Saturdays,” Lunt said, “but just being able to take hits was the biggest thing.”
Illinois is set to don shoulder pads and shorts on Wednesday, the first time the Illini will put on any type of pads.
The first two days of practice have featured Illinois just in helmets, jersey tops and shorts.
Friday night is the first practice with the entire team, and the first day of full pads.
“I’m definitely excited to get everybody together, but it’s nice to get everybody reps, too,” quarterback Reilly O’Toole said. “It’s nice, too, to have these four days where we get a lot of reps, and when we get together as a team, hopefully everybody has a great grasp of the offense, the defense and special teams, so hopefully we’ll be that much more ahead of the game.”