'We're being physical'

'We're being physical'

URBANA — Wednesday's fifth practice at the Campus Recreation Fields marked Illinois' first in full pads. That didn't change much — Illinois still isn't tackling to the ground — but the intensity did jump a level with more contact.

"Now there's no more patty-pat stuff like that," sophomore tight end Lou Dorsey said. "We're being physical. It's better for us. We can really go in and block."

Full pads and full contact for the whole team just caught the rest of the Illini up with the offensive linemen.

"Linemen, we basically go full go from helmets on, so not a huge change for us," redshirt senior guard Nick Allegretti said. "Fun little atmosphere there at the end with the live go in goal-line short yardage. But in terms of linemen, we're pretty much strapping up and going no matter what."

Illinois coach Lovie Smith called the first practice in full pads "a milestone you want to get to" in training camp.

"Everything we've done has been good, but we're not there," Smith said. "We're not disciplined enough yet. Things we definitely need to clean up. Most of the time you go through training camp there's some highs and lows. We need the rest of the practices."

* * * 

More intensity did lead to a pair of scuffles late in Wednesday's practice. A dust-up between tight end Caleb Reams and defensive back Dylan Wyatt went largely unnoticed (save for the coaching staff) on the far side of the field, but wide receiver Ricky Smalling and defensive back Nolan Bernat going at it drew more of their teammates into the fray.

"All that was, was a way to force the rest of your teammates to run and get tired in the middle of practice," Smith said.

The full team ran sprints after the Smalling-Bernat scuffle.

"We don't have time for that stuff," Smith continued. "We need to use all that energy out there between the whistles as much as anything."

Sophomore safety Bennett Williams said it was important to maintain an even keel during practice. Passion and emotion might be the first response to a situation like Wednesday's skirmish, but it shouldn't be the only response.

"Guys are going to go at it, but we've got to realize we've all got the same goal," Williams said. "We're all trying to accomplish the same thing. It can get frustrating, but we've got to stay level. We've got to keep our mind on what we're trying to accomplish."

* * * 

Linebacker depth is still a concern for Illinois with just eight scholarship players at the position once Marc Mondesir was moved to defensive line. One of those eight — Washington transfer Camilo Eifler — has to sit out the 2018 season before he's eligible.

The Illini need fewer linebackers, though, given how often their defense will have a nickelback on the field in a five defensive back scheme.

"We're probably going to run a lot of it this year — mostly be in that — because teams like to have that third receiver and sometimes four receivers," Williams said. "We feel like we've got a lot of athletic guys that can match up with that."

* * * 

Allegretti has been pleased with his team's morale and energy through the first five days of training camp. The veteran offensive lineman was less pleased with how his position group fared Wednesday.

"We lost in the effort battle, and we can't have that," Allegretti said. "Technique, all that stuff, we can fix. Effort, we need to fix that. (Wednesday) wasn't a great day."

Illinois' offensive line continues to play the same group together as the first unit, with Doug Kramer at center, Allegretti and Kendrick Green at guard and Alex Palczewski and Vederian Lowe at tackle. It's still a young group, but Allegretti said the year of experience his sophomore teammates have makes a difference.

"You look at guys like Vederian Lowe and Larry (Boyd) and Alex, they understand football a lot better," Allegretti said. "Last year they were running around giving effort and all that stuff, but they didn't understand the game. Adding that maturity to the room helps a lot."

* * * 

Boyd, who dropped from the first string offensive line during spring, has repped at right tackle and both guard spots so far in training camp.

"Ideally, we want guys who can play inside and out, so you create depth that way without maybe not as many numbers," Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith said. "Not everybody can do that, but Larry's a kid that can do that. We're getting him reps at both."

* * * 

This year's training camp is Illinois tight ends coach Cory Patterson's first as a college coach. He's noticed some differences from his days as a high school at Trinity Catholic in St. Louis.

"We get a lot of stuff put in, the guys pick up stuff a whole lot faster and we get going a lot faster," Patterson said. "That's been the biggest difference for me. ... We're working on some grit right now. We want to be the toughest guys, the most violent guys, on the field. We're working on a lot of that stuff to earn our keep this year."

This year is also the first training camp for Daniel Barker — the only freshman among Illinois' tight ends. Patterson has liked what he's seen from the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"He can definitely make plays, but we've got to see what else he can do for us," Patterson said. "Athletically, he's really good. We've got to get his weight down a little bit, but athletically the kid has great feet and great hands. I want to see how physical he'll be for me, though."

* * *

Former Illinois defensive end/linebacker/hybrid safety James Crawford signed with the Green Bay Packers on Wednesday. Crawford will join former Illini wide receiver Geronimo Allison and former Illini coach Ron Zook in Green Bay.

Crawford appeared in 36 games during his Illinois career and finished with 80 tackles (10 1 / 2 for loss) in his four seasons. An All-Big Ten honorable mention selection in 2017, the Deerfield, Fla., native led Illinois in tackles for loss (5 1 / 2) last season while tying for the team lead in sacks (four), forced fumbles (three) and fumble recoveries (two).

Camp confidential

Day 5 is in the books for Illinois football training camp. Beat writer Scott Richey breaks it down:

WHAT HAPPENED WEDNESDAY

Carmoni Green had an up and down freshman season — one plagued by inconsistency. The sophomore wide receiver out of Miami has found that consistency so far in camp by making plays, and drew praise from Illini wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker.

WHAT TO EXPECT TODAY

The quarterback competition will continue. Even though Illini coach Lovie Smith hasn’t put one above any other, graduate transfer AJ Bush is the early leader. After a solid Wednesday, can freshman Matt Robinson continue to challenge Cam Thomas for what could be the backup spot?

Scheduling matters

Here’s when the nine remaining Illinois football training camp practices take place, with all of them at the Campus Rec Fields except for Saturday and Aug. 18. Those practices will be at Memorial Stadium:

DATE TIME

Today 9-11 a.m.

Friday 9-11 a.m.

Saturday Closed

Monday 9-11 a.m.

Tuesday 9-11 a.m.

Wednesday 3-5 p.m.

Aug. 16 9-11 a.m.

Aug. 17 9-11 a.m.

Aug. 18 3-5 p.m.