NOTES: Illini offense, defense exchange good practice days in training camp's final week

NOTES: Illini offense, defense exchange good practice days in training camp's final week

URBANA — As you know, when the Illinois defense makes a winning play in practice, the players celebrate.

In a big way.

To senior receiver Malik Turner, it is part of the team's preparation.

"We always want to come out there and kill the defense," Turner said. "Our defense is out there giving us great competition. We're going at each other every day. We're going as hard as we can. That's how I want our defense to be. That's how our defense will be. They're going to get turnovers and when they do, they deserve to celebrate. It's going to happen all the time."

Turner — Illinois' leading returning receiver after he caught 48 passes for 712 yards a year ago — said training camp is going well for him and for the Illinois offense.

"We've had a lot of good days out here and we're seeing a lot of guys' talents," Turner said. "A lot of guys are really figuring out what to do in this offense. It's looking really good. Guys are making plays all over the field. You've got Ra'Von (Bonner) running hard and Mike Epstein and we've got Kendall (Smith) and Ricky Smalling out there making plays and being comfortable in the offense."

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Turner realizes his time in training camp is winding down. After Tuesday's two-hour workout, there are only four scheduled sessions remaining. The team returns full-time to its home facility next week.

"I'm just trying to maximize every practice," Turner said.

Turner and Mikey Dudek are projected starters. Early in camp, it looked like the third spot would go to Sam Mays. But he has missed a chunk of training camp with a leg injury.

"A couple guys are a little banged up," Turner said. "We've got to keep working Mikey in. He's looking really good. I'm glad to see him out there making plays. He's looking like his old self. We'll all be out there together shortly. Don't worry."

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Illinois coach Lovie Smith said he is counting on Turner, who led the Illini with six receiving touchdowns last year.

"We're expecting big things from him this year," Smith said.

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In his fourth year, Turner has experienced preseason drills at three different sites: Camp Rantoul, the grass practice fields near Memorial Stadium and now the Campus Rec Fields.

"Rantoul treated us well," Turner said. "The community was very nice and very supportive. It's a new environment for the team (this year). I think it's good. We're close. Just a bus ride down the street."So, which side had the upper hand at Tuesday's practice?

"(Monday) the offense really took it to the defense," Smith said. "Normally, when you get hit in the mouth, you need to come back the next day. The defense came back (Tuesday). We like the competition. We really do like how we're improving daily."

The warmer weather Tuesday will help the Illini when the season starts, Smith said.

"The odds are for Ball State, it's going to be pretty hot that day," Smith said. "We need to be able to go through it. We take a break and simulate halftime most of our practices. We need to rest up a little bit and then come back out stronger. That's what we're trying to do."

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Many of the true freshmen are getting extensive reps with the first two units.

"You look in college football nowadays, good football players play a lot earlier," Smith said. "They don't all stay for four years. We're in a situation where we need some help from some of our young players. We understand the negatives, but there are a lot of positives. Our football team is a lot better with this group of freshmen that we have."

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Defensive end James Crawford didn't practice Tuesday.

"Sore hamstring," Smith said. "Week three, it's going to happen a little bit."

Bob Asmussen