UI training camp: 'It's really a grind'

UI training camp: 'It's really a grind'

URBANA — Illinois football training camp has lasted almost two weeks, and the team has taken part in 10 practices at the Campus Recreation fields.

The only break happened last Sunday.

Until Friday.

Illinois announced that Friday afternoon's practice, scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. in Urbana and last until approximately 5 p.m., was canceled. Lovie Smith's program held a walkthrough instead at Memorial Stadium.

"Since they're going at 9 a.m. (this) morning, they called off the on-field practice," Illinois Sports Information Director Kent Brown said Friday.

The team meets every day before practicing. Illinois is scheduled to hold a two-hour practice today. All training camp practices, which run until Aug. 19, are free and open to the public.

• • •

Sean Adesanya is in his third season at Illinois, but this year's training camp is the first one he's been 100 percent healthy. The junior college transfer missed the 2015 season with a shoulder injury, and a torn Achilles in spring practice in 2016 kept him sidelined last fall, too.

"Wow, it's really a grind," Adesanya said about participating fully in his first camp. "Coach says just push through it. Everybody's hurting out here, and nobody's out here slacking. Everybody's working hard."

Adesanya turned strong spring production into, at this point, a likely starting spot at defensive end on the Illinois line. After spring ball, he said he spent time re-watching his film with Smith and defensive line coach Mike Phair to help fine tune his skill set.

"What I was working on was more my pass rushing moves, so I could have different attributes and not just have one move," the New Jersey native said. "Also, knowing what the offense is doing. That comes from studying the film."

Adesanya said his goal is to follow in the footsteps of the defensive linemen he learned from his first two seasons at Illinois — Jihad Ward, Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips. All three are currently on NFL rosters, with Ward and Smoot being selected in the past two drafts.

• • •

Illinois had enough depth at linebacker to shift Atlanta native and redshirt freshman Christion Abercrombie to its rebuilding defensive line. Of all the position groups for the Illini, the linebacker two-deep is rounding into form the quickest.

Tre Watson is anchoring the first string at middle linebacker, flanked by fellow junior Julian Jones on the strong side and sophomore Jake Hansen on the weak side. Hansen played in all 12 games last season as a true freshman, making one start, and said this year's training camp is completely different from last year.

"You go from taking not as many reps to a lot of reps," the Tarpon Springs, Fla., native said. "It means more. I just think my knowledge of the defense is a lot higher. I didn't know nearly half as much as I do now. I can't even explain it."

Fellow sophomore Dele Harding, who's part of the second group along with junior college transfer Del'Shawn Phillips and redshirt sophomore Justice Williams is in a similar spot as Hansen. He simply knows more now than he did a year ago.

"Me coming in as a freshman, I'd say the difficult part was the playbook — learning everything and getting a feel for it," Harding said. "The game speed was much faster coming straight out of high school to college football. It was really the playbook that got to me. I couldn't get all the ins and outs to get my game all around good."

• • •

Both Hansen and Harding called the Illinois defense one built for linebackers. Having former linebackers and NFL linebacker coaches in Smith and defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson certainly helps make that case.

"Our defense is kind of linebacker-oriented," Harding said. "We are the voice of the whole defense. Linebacker could be the biggest strength, but we all want to act as one unit."

"It's a great defense to play in if you play linebacker," Hansen added. "I think we're pretty deep at LBs, too, so if one guy goes down, it's next guy up. I think we can help the team out a lot this year."

• • •

Christian DiLauro spent the early part of this week just trying to get back in the training camp swing. Illinois' most experienced offensive lineman sat out most of the first week with a minor injury — more a precautionary move than anything for the redshirt senior.

DiLauro's return also meant Illinois could field a full two-deep at offensive line, as freshmen Vederian Lowe and Jake Stover remained sidelined, fellow freshman Larry Boyd returned Thursday but was limited. Redshirt freshman Andrew Trainer was also limited as he transitions from tight end.

Even able to go two-deep, just 10 fully participating offensive linemen has its ups and downs.

"We're getting tired," DiLauro said. "But we're getting a lot of reps. We're getting better every day. That's the nice thing. Having low numbers, we're getting these young guys to get up there and take more reps. At times, it's not exciting, but it's good. It's good work, and it's helping us."

• • •

The Illinois roster grew again at the end of last week with the addition of another walk-on. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Shawn McPartland rejoined the Illini at the end of the first week of camp after spending the spring with the team.

McPartland is a 2016 Lemont grad and was a starting cornerback on the Indians' Class 6A state runner-up team in 2014.