Camp Rantoul notes: QB decision looms for Illini
RANTOUL — Aaron Bailey walked off the practice field Monday morning at Camp Rantoul.
With a trainer nearby.
The Illinois quarterback sat out Monday’s first workout with right shoulder stiffness. The soreness left him a spectator again when the Illini closed its stay to Camp Rantoul with a light practice on Monday evening that focused on special teams work.
Can't wait for Youngstown State? Get a scouting report Tuesday at 5:10 on WDWS with penguins play-by-play man Bob Hannon.
“I feel fine,” Bailey said. “It was just some stiffness. I’m going to be OK. At first, any injury like that, things start going through your mind, but I should be fine.”
Bailey missing practice probably didn’t matter much in a quarterback competition that is essentially settled. All that is left is for Illinois coach Tim Beckman to declare Wes Lunt the starter ahead of Reilly O’Toole and Bailey. No announcement came Monday, but Beckman has said he wants the starter in place on Wednesday when Illinois starts preparing in earnest for Youngstown State.
“When coach says, ‘Hey, let’s name him, all right, fine,’” Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “He’s getting reports every day from us. We even chart snap counts. That’s how much we get into that. You just keep working. That’s all you do.”
Lunt and O’Toole said they aren’t paying much attention to when the starter is named.
“Whatever coach wants to do with an announcement is when we’re going to let it happen,” Lunt said. “As an offense, we’re just going to work every day to get better and get ready for Youngstown State.”
O’Toole, who roomed with Lunt at Camp Rantoul, said the competition aspect hasn’t fazed him. He is used to it after three years of trying to win the starting job from Nathan Scheelhaase.
“It’s really the same thing,” O’Toole said. “We’re friends, and ultimately, we just want to win. The best guy is going to play.”
Saturday night’s scrimmage at Memorial Stadium was closed to the public and media. No huge injuries to any key players transpired, and Cubit came away pleased with the play of the quarterbacks. Particularly Lunt, who Cubit said completed 20 of 24 passes.
“That’s pretty good. I can take that,” Cubit said with a grin.
“He was actually 22 of 24, but one was a throwaway, and there was one where a guy didn’t run his route properly.”
Lunt was pleased with how the offense played.
“I thought we punched it in when we needed to,” Lunt said. “We had a few three-and-outs and need to cut down on penalties, but other than that, I thought the offense played pretty well.”
Jake Howe wore an orange No. 95 jersey on Monday. The number was the same he has sported in the past, but the color jersey indicated the fifth-year senior was an offensive player.
On Monday, the defensive tackle was catching passes with the wideouts and working in a package that utilized him at fullback.
“I wish this would have happened a little sooner, but I’m going with it right now and just trying to learn the offense,” said Howe, who was recruited to Illinois as a fullback out of McHenry before switching to defense. “I had a lot of fun in high school playing fullback. I’m excited to do it again.”
At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Howe presents a bigger alternative than a typical fullback. Beckman said the Illini staff approached Howe about making the position switch.
“I can’t wait to see what we do when we hand him the ball on the belly (play),” Beckman said. “If it’s third-and-one, give the (300)-pound fullback the football and see what he can do with it.”
Howe has dealt with back issues and a broken wrist that ended his 2012 season after five games. Making any sort of contribution is what he wants out of his last season with the Illini.
“My route running needs some work, and blocking guys out in space (does too),” Howe said. “They’re cool with me being 300 pounds right now. I’m eating a couple more salads than normal, but whatever they tell me to do, I’ll do it.”
Until next year
By the time the last Camp Rantoul practice started around 5 p.m. on Monday, the process of heading back to Champaign was well underway.
Illinois ended its 10 practices in Rantoul on Monday, with practice today back at Memorial Stadium.
“I enjoy being here,” Beckman said. “This is something that a lot of people don’t get to do. We have an opportunity for our football team to have it act like a pro camp. That’s exactly the way that we try to run this thing.”
For seniors like O’Toole and Earnest Thomas, it’s the last Camp Rantoul they’ll take part in.
“It’s bittersweet leaving,” O’Toole said. “It’ll be nice to get back to Champaign and campus, but I’m sure next year at this time I’ll be wishing I was back in Rantoul with the team.”
Thomas echoed similar sentiments.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” the linebacker said. “Hopefully it doesn’t hit me until long after the season.”
After going through its hottest practice so far at Camp Rantoul, many players and coaches received a bucket of ice water to cool down after Monday’s first workout session ended with temperatures in the mid-80s.
With an assist from children at Little Wings Childcare in Rantoul, the Illini took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge that has spread across the country to raise awareness for ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Beckman, his assistants and the entire team sat in front of a set of bleachers, where roughly 30 buckets of water were stationed. The children and several Illinois staff members dumped the water on their heads from the top row of the bleachers.
Before the ice cold water fell on them, Beckman issued similar challenges to Illinois high school coaches. Frank Lenti at Chicago Mt. Carmel, Ken Leonard at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, Derek Leonard at Rochester, Andy Bitto at Mundelein Carmel, former Illini John Holecek at Loyola Academy, John Ivlow at Bolingbrook, Darren Sunkett at East St. Louis and Mark Grounds at Jacksonville were all challenged by Beckman.
“It was real cold,” Beckman said. “I wanted our players to learn it was more than just pouring an ice bucket on your head. This is about a purpose.”
Aside from the yearly excursion at the Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center, the Illini had other activities on Sunday. Beckman borrowed a page from John Groce and had former U.S. Navy Seal John McGuire out at Camp Rantoul on Sunday. Beckman didn’t take an ice bath, like Groce did earlier this summer, but the Illini went through a few drills where they had to balance a raft in the air using canoe paddles.
Colonel Royal P. Morentson, a retired U.S. Marine who is the director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute, talked to the team as well on Sunday evening.
“It was all leadership,” Beckman said. “It was listening to leaders tell us what to do. I’d like to do it more, but we can really only do this during preseason. I think it was great for our kids.”
Another Illini will receive a medical scholarship. Offensive lineman Jesse Chadwell has a hip condition that won’t allow him to play, Beckman said. Chadwell, from Clarkston, Mich., was a Class of 2013 recruit who redshirted last season.