It's their time to shine

It's their time to shine

URBANA — A pair of returning Illini have shifted position groups during training camp.

Redshirt freshman Christion Abercrombie moved up one level in the Illinois defense from linebacker to defensive end, while fellow redshirt freshman Andrew Trainer shifted from tight end to fill a real need on the Illini offensive line.

Both moves, Illinois coach Lovie Smith said, came in an attempt to put Abercrombie and Trainer in the best position to help the team.

"You have to keep working to get everybody in the right spot, but (Abercrombie) has some ability," Smith said. "He can rush on the outside a little bit, so it was a natural position for him. An outside linebacker (out of high school), a lot of times, is a defensive end in our system."

Abercrobmie showed some of his skills during 11-on-11 action Thursday.

Especially his athleticism.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound new defensive end out of Atlanta made a leaping interception at the line of scrimmage off Jeff George Jr. Trainer went through some drills with the offensive linemen and got some 1-on-1 instruction from offensive line coach Luke Butkus between full team sessions.

"He wasn't getting a whole lot of reps (at tight end)," Smith said. "Most of the good tackles you see right now were once tight ends. It's a natural progression for him, too."

 

 

Frank Sumpter played in nine games last season and made two starts at nickelback after redshirting the 2015 season. With Jaylen Dunlap sidelined and the opposite cornerback spot open, Sumpter is in the thick of the competition among the defensive backs.

"Being in the defense, you learn as you go," said Sumpter, who made a career-high six tackles in Illinois' win against Michigan State last season.

"Knowing the scheme makes you play faster and be able to make more plays," Sumpter continued. "That's a benefit for me."

 

Also among the open competitions in camp is tight end. Caleb Reams and Nathan Echard — the latter has moved from fullback — are the only players among that position group to have actually caught a pass for the Illini.

Freshman tight end Louis Dorsey, a 6-6, 225-pound three-star prospect out of Jacksonville, Fla., has proven to be a reliable passing game target in the first two weeks of camp.

"Louis Dorsey is a great athlete and hard worker," Echard said. "I'm trying to get with him because I'm trying to use my seniority and me being around to try and help him out."

Dorsey might end up being a Jimmy Graham-type tight end for the Illini. As in, tight end in name only.

"We're not really going to say right now and let everybody else figure out how they should play him," Smith said. "He's that cross — a guy that could line up in line but is also comfortable outside."

 

 

Echard is one of two former defensive players in Illinois' tight end group. He joined the Illini in 2013 as a walk-on linebacker, and Henry McGrew was recruited as a linebacker in the Class of 2014.

McGrew made his shift to offense this season, while Echard played the last two as an H-back and fullback, respectively.

That defensive background, Echard said, could be an advantage for himself and McGrew now lining up at tight end.

"The one thing I always say is since we've been in those defensive spots we know what their assignments are in certain coverages and how they're going to take on blocks," Echard said. "We know what the tendencies are, so we can kind of account for it when we're on offense."

Scott Richey

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