Getting back in the huddle

Getting back in the huddle

URBANA — Illinois has a starting quarterback, Chayce Crouch. Lovie Smith announced it to the football world during the Big Ten kickoff last month.

The backup, Jeff George Jr., has as many college wins: one. Crouch beat Rutgers in his final game of 2016. George helped the Illini knock off Michigan State.

Both George and Crouch struggled during Saturday's team period, throwing too many interceptions for Smith's liking.

"That's what training camp is. You have good days and bad days," George said. "As we keep putting new stuff in and working on what we've got, mistakes are going to happen. We learn from them and move on. We're striving to build on every single day."

In 2016, George completed 38 of 94 passes for 470 yards in five games. He threw four touchdown passes and five interceptions.

The son of the former Illni great, George spent the offseason working with his teammates as often as time allowed.

"We got together as an offense and just had a mind-set that we were going to work hard and grind." George said. "We definitely won this offseason. All the guys worked extremely hard and we really grew closer as a family as well."

George saw personal growth.

"I feel like you can always get better," George said. "I feel like I've definitely made some good strides in progressing as a quarterback. I'm taking every day to work on my craft and get better."

Crouch suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Rutgers that required surgery.

"He's doing great," George said. "All the quarterbacks, we're trying to help each other and get better."

Freshman Cam Thomas has had good moments in his first training camp. George remembers his first year.

"It's always tough as a freshman coming in and having to learn everything in training camp," George said.

George is working at his third training camp site. He was at Camp Rantoul earlier in his career, then at Memorial Stadium and the nearby grass practice fields in 2016.

How does he like the Campus Rec Fields?

"I love it out here," George said. "It actually feels like a real training camp. A little bit off-site, somewhere you're not really used to. I really enjoy it."

George's dad visited practice Tuesday. It was not the first time they have talked during training camp.

"I talk to my dad every day," George said. "He's a guy I can vent to sometimes and go over things and just get his perspective on it. I'd be stupid if I didn't because he's been there."

Of course, Jeff Sr. has his son's back. But the former No. 1 NFL draft pick in 1990 will also offer constructive criticism.

"He's definitely like a coach off the field," George Jr. said. "We just talk through things. At the same time, that's Pops, that's Dad. He's always there supporting no matter what."

The last time George played was in the Illini's 48-3 loss at Wisconsin, where he threw four interceptions in the first half before Wes Lunt replaced him after halftime. George sat out the final two games last season with Lunt healthy, and he can't wait to get back on the field.

"I'm fired up," George said. "You are always looking forward to strapping it up for real."

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