Illini freshmen earning their shots

Illini freshmen earning their shots

URBANA — Down time doesn't always lead to a better performance the next time out. That's what happened to the Illinois football team Monday.

"Traditionally, you don't have your best practice, for some reason after you've had a day off," Lovie Smith said. "This wasn't our best practice. We've got some things we need to tighten up on. Simple as that."

Smith pointed to turnovers on offense, which were a problem during the team's Saturday night workout.

"There's a winner and a loser each day in that," Smith said. "Today, the offense lost, so we did a little bit of extra stuff after practice. We need to get back on the field (today) and practice better."In past years, Illinois training camp would have opened Monday. Thanks to a change in NCAA rules, the Illini were able to start a week earlier.

"We have to keep telling ourselves that," Smith said. "After you practice a week, you should look like you've been out here a week Today, it looked like this was our first practice, unfortunately. We need all the reps we can get."

Smith didn't have to be convinced to use the bonus time.

"As a general rule, we start when you can start," Smith said.Smith is rotating a handful of freshmen with the first unit. The players have earned their shots.

"Before we came to camp, the numbers said some of the young guys would get an opportunity early on," Smith said. "That has happened. After so many practices, some of the young players are making plays so they are warranting more reps. That's pleasing."Barely a week into training camp, the Illinois depth chart is starting to take shape. Somewhat."As you look at the reps, that's kind of telling you how guys warrant reps," Smith said. "Right now, we haven't played well enough to really talk about a starter at a position.

"We have a whole lot of competition, which you want in training camp."The Illini have 12 commitments for the 2018 recruiting class. Six are from Florida and two are from Texas.

Smith and his staff can't talk about specific players. But they can mention where they want to go to look.

"We talked a lot last year about not being able to get a player from Texas," said Smith, who is from Big Sandy. "Great football down in the state of Texas. It's an area where we have ties and we'll continue to recruit hard."Second-year running backs coach Thad Ward keeps a constant eye on recruiting. College football is currently in a dead period for recruiting, meaning the only contact has to be initiated by the players. Recruits also aren't allowed on campus.

"You want the guys, especially the local guys, to be able to come here and watch practice," Ward said. "It's the rule we have to follow."

When the rules allow, Ward and the rest of the Illinois coaches are in contact every day."If you're not talking to them every day, somebody else is," Ward said. "Recruiting is just like getting up. Using the bathroom, taking a shower every day. You've got to get up early in the morning, text them, DM (direct message) them. have some kind of contact with these kids so they know and they understand that you value them and you want them to be a part of the program. Modern technology, that's big."Ward enjoys recruiting.

"It's fun. It's competitive," he said. "It's just like playing football. Every day, you're battling for a kid. If you lose one, you get upset about it but you move on to the next kid."Ward said he is pleased with the practice performance of the running backs.

"We're taking step by step," Ward said. "The guys are growing, getting better and better. We talk about being consistently good."

Besides veterans Kendrick Foster, Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown, the group includes freshmen Ra'Von Bonner and Mike Epstein.

"Those two young guys are starting to develop," Ward said. "The details, we've got to continue to get better with those. We've got a game in less than a month. We've got to keep adding."

Foster leads the running backs.

"Kendrick is as solid as they get," Ward said. "I'm pushing him to take his game to the next level."

Corbin has missed practice time because of injury, but is expected back soon. So is Brown, who missed the last two seasons.

"He's getting closer," Ward said. "We're being smart about it."Bob Asmussen

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Moonpie wrote on August 08, 2017 at 10:08 am

Practice is basically almost meaningless in terms of assessing whether there is improvement -- only actual games reflect that. The Lazy Gazoo wants to try and crown the Illini world beaters if a guy makes a proper block in practice. Why not instead find out why Smalling had to be excused from camp for days. Was he ill? In trouble? A death in the family? Don't ask us to cheer players when they do well if you aren't willing to find out what happens behind the scenes. Inform fans instead of protecing teams and coaches.