Football notes: Bailey understanding Cubit's system
CHAMPAIGN — Aaron Bailey had this predicament last summer.
The quarterback had to decipher the multifaceted offense Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit runs. After Bailey played in an option-based offense at Bolingbrook, it wasn’t the easiest task.
Even if he doesn’t take the starting job from Wes Lunt, Bailey should find himself in the mix to contribute this season. He’s certainly more at ease this August than he was a year ago.
“I know what to do now,” Bailey said. “I feel more comfortable with the playbook. Last year, I was thinking a lot, but now I’m just reacting and playing my game.”
The three-man race to replace Nathan Scheelhaase is well-documented and has been since Scheelhaase played his last game against Northwestern.
“It’s not like we’re enemies or anything like that,” Bailey said. “We come out here and compete, but at the same time, we help each other out.”
Although Lunt probably has the upper hand to start, and it appeared Reilly O’Toole may have slid past Bailey this spring into the backup spot, Bailey isn’t conceding the job. It’s not in his nature.
“I just need to continue playing my game and stay focused like I am,” Bailey said.
“You know you’re going to have bad plays and good plays, but just continue to come out and play. I’m a very consistent player.”
And one who is eager to see what unfolds in scrimmages Illinois will have during the next few weeks. Perform well in those settings and perhaps he can make up any ground he might have lost.
“I think (the scrimmages are) very important because in practice you can’t really tell and can’t get a judgment on it,” Bailey said, “but when you get an actual chance to perform in a scrimmage off a live play, I feel like that will definitely help.”
Lost amid the shuffle about who will start at quarterback for Illinois is this: With Cubit returning for his second season, it is the first time most Illini offensive players will have the same coordinator in consecutive seasons.
Hence, the same offensive system.
Paul Petrino was the last Illinois offensive coordinator to last two consecutive seasons in 2010 and 2011. None of the current Illini saw the field in both those seasons, with fifth-year seniors Simon Cvijanovic, Michael Heitz and Alex Hill redshirting in 2010.
“It’s unbelievable,” running back Josh Ferguson said. “This is my first time in college having the same offense in consecutive seasons. It has been great. We’ve just been relearning things, and we’ve been able to go pretty fast at the same pace.”
Alex Golesh coaches the running backs and tight ends. The Illini assistant has noticed a difference at this point of preseason practice than he was able to last August.
“When you’re installing a new offense, you’re teaching scheme,” Golesh said. “Now we’re able to teach more of the fundamentals and more of the intricacies. It’s a lot more fun.”
Ferguson speaks up.
Staying healthy and becoming more vocal are two cornerstones when it comes to Ferguson.
The most dynamic offensive weapon not named Lunt the Illini have, the fourth-year junior understands much is expected of him this fall. Getting named to the Doak Walker Award watch list makes him realize this.
“All is well (with my health), and I can’t complain at all,” Ferguson said. “I want to be in tip-top shape to be able to last all four quarters.”
Cubit is optimistic Ferguson can do just that.
“With personnel groups, you put Josh out there, and what is that? Is that one tight end or one back? Or do you go five wide because he’s a good route runner?” Cubit said. “On the other side, that’s a lot of stuff for those guys to know, and their game plan condenses. He’s such a good route runner, and with the ball in his hands, we don’t really have anybody like him. That’s not being negative on anybody else, but that’s how special I think the kid is.”
Though quiet to those he may not know well, Ferguson is the opposite with his teammates. Juice Williams posted an Instagram video this summer of the running back motivating the Illini before they ran out onto the field last season. Quite surprising coming from the soft-spoken Ferguson.
“He’s quiet to a lot of people, but when he’s in the locker room, he’s probably one of the loudest guys,” tight end Jon Davis said. “He gets us hyped — we came up with that before last season and did it before every game — and just watching it on video is something else because it brings the feeling that college football is back.”
Making his pitch.
O’Toole became somewhat of a YouTube hit last August. The backup quarterback filmed a commercial touting an Illinois game day in a spoof of the noteworthy Hump Day commercial by Geico.
He said plans are in the works for another commercial, with Ferguson contributing as well.
“Supposedly we have one coming up,” O’Toole said. “I’m not sure when that’s airing, but we’re excited about it.”