Lunt, O'Toole have solid starts
RANTOUL — Before a downpour descended upon the Camp Rantoul practice fields, quarterback Wes Lunt and his fellow Illinois teammates were able to avoid getting soaked.
Lunt worked with the starters throughout Monday evening’s scrimmage, which lasted roughly an hour and didn’t feature any official statistics or scores. Illinois went through the paces, setting up plays in various situations and mixing in starters with reserves throughout.
Of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job, Lunt looked the most impressive in the only scrimmage setting Illinois will go through in Rantoul. Illinois is slated to have a scrimmage Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, but it is closed to the public and media.
“I thought the (offensive) line was very physical, and the backs ran well,” Lunt said. “Overall, I thought it went well. Every day we’re getting better, and that’s all you can ask for. The organized practices kind of get old, so it’s nice to switch it up and scrimmage.”
Lunt said he didn’t want to force any throws Monday night, and he didn’t.
“I felt I did all right,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of improvement to do, but overall, it went all right.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit came away impressed with Lunt’s composure.
“I really wanted to concentrate on the run game and see where we’re at, but he got us in good places except for one, and that was a lost-yards play,” Cubit said. “He’s got to know that’s going to be an issue there. He’s a work in progress. He hasn’t played in a year and a half, and we’ve just got to keep him going. But as soon as he comes off to the sidelines, he’s got all kinds of questions, and he’s attentive.”
Reilly O’Toole didn’t look bad, either, getting most of his reps with the second team. Aaron Bailey struggled at times but didn’t have much time to throw the ball on several snaps.
Lunt and O’Toole are rooming together at Camp Rantoul, an aspect Cubit said is working out well.
“Having Reilly around is really helping (Lunt) out,” Cubit said. “They talk football all the time.”
Late skirmish. Linebackers Earnest Thomas and Jason Goldsmith, along with tight end Dallas Hinkhouse, spent the last 20 minutes of Monday night’s practice on the middle field.
The three players ran sprints away from the rest of their teammates while Illinois scrimmaged after a brief fight broke out between several players. Geronimo Allison and James Crawford also appeared to get involved in a brief shoving match before players and coaches separated the two.
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“What we usually do, just like in a game, if you throw a blow, you’re out,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “There’s been little skirmishes, but nothing like that, and then (Thomas) came in off the sideline. I said, ‘We’re not going to have that, and we’re not going to do that.’”
Turner working with starters. At times during Monday morning’s practice, true freshman wideouts Malik Turner and Mike Dudek were lined up next to one another. Allison and Martize Barr, two other likely starters, were on the other side, but Dudek and Turner continue to impress. Even after the first week of practice.
“You can tell where he’s come from, and you can tell how he’s been coached,” Beckman said of Turner, a Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin product. “He competes in everything he does. He’s a very, very competitive person.”
De-striping continues. Three true freshmen went through the de-striping process after the first practice Monday. Illini who haven’t gone through training camp yet have a stripe down the middle of their helmet, but those can be taken off after teammates vote on who gets de-striped based on their play. Center Nick Allegretti, linebacker Henry McGrew and Turner were the three Illini to receive the recognition. They joined Allison, linebacker Carroll Phillips, Dudek and defensive lineman Jihad Ward, who were de-striped after Saturday night’s practice.
Injury watch. Wide receiver Dionte Taylor and defensive back Darwyn Kelly worked off on a side field Monday morning at Rantoul with the strength and conditioning staff. Both wore purple jerseys that indicate no contact. Linebacker B.J. Bello didn’t practice, either, pedaling a stationary bike during part of Monday’s morning workout, with his right arm folded across his chest in a wrap.
“He’s doing well,” Illinois inside linebackers coach Mike Ward said. “He’s just got a little ding. He’ll be fine.”
Familiar face. What’s become a Camp Rantoul staple since Beckman started at Illinois is the sight of his father, Dave, driving around practice on a golf cart. The elder Beckman is expected at every practice in Rantoul the rest of the week.
“It’s a blessing,” the younger Beckman said. “All those times that I spent with him, now he has to listen to me. He thinks that’s his official golf cart, but it’s great to have him here.”