Smalling's thinking big

Smalling's thinking big

URBANA — Ricky Smalling's arrival at Illinois training camp last week was notable.

For starters, the former Brother Rice receiver was the top-ranked recruit in Illinois' 2017 recruiting class. Smalling was one of just three four-star recruits in the class along with Miami Central teammates Carmoni Green and Owen Carney Jr.

The fact he was excused "for personal reasons" and didn't start camp with the Illini also had rumors circulating when — and maybe if — he'd play this fall.

Lovie Smith extinguished those rumors before Smalling arrived last week, but actually having the 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver on the field has only helped the Illinois offense.

He provides starting quarterback Chayce Crouch with another legitimate weapon in the passing game, and he runs those routes with a particular speed the rest of the wide receiver corps is, at times, hard-pressed to match.

"What makes me unique is I'm fast with big playmaking ability," Smalling said. "That's my game — jump balls, deep balls whatever. I feel like I can do it all as an all-around receiver."

Smalling has had to work his way back into the training camp mix. Since he arrived late, he was in shorts and helmet only when the rest of the team moved to pads. The first thing the coaches had him do when he returned, though, was start cramming in learning the playbook.

"I'm just glad to be back with the guys," Smalling said. "I felt bad not getting in any work. I just had to take care of some things. It's taken some time, but I'm getting the hang of things right now."

After his forced delay into padded workouts, Smalling has flashed his playmaking ability in the Illinois offense. He's made big catches both in the open field and in red zone situations.

"Ricky can catch the ball, and he can make you miss after he catches the football," Smith said. "Both days down in the red zone he's made big plays, but that's what we expected from him. That's what he's been doing all his life."

Smalling is also learning from Illinois' veteran receivers. Mikey Dudek has some quickness of his own, and Smalling said he's got to play just like the redshirt junior returning from a pair of knee surgeries. From senior wide receiver Malik Turner, he gets lessons in technique.

"He's very technical," Smalling said, "so he teaches me the ins and outs and everything done the right way."

Smalling was Smith's first commitment in the 2017 class, doing so the same night in April as fellow freshman wide receiver Kendall Smith after a 2016 spring practice. Illinois' plan is what sold him.

"I believed in it," he said. "It's a dream come true. Every kid dreams of this — coming to play Big Ten football — and having Lovie Smith as your coach is a bonus. It's a great place to be. Who wouldn't want to play for Lovie Smith? Who wouldn't want to play for their home state?"

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Moonpie wrote on August 11, 2017 at 11:08 am

I guess I missed the part where Lovie Dovie Savior Man extinguished any rumors. Seems unlikely given that Lovie Dovie never explains much at all and the Lazy Gazoo doesn't ask.