Young Illini QBs improving as veterans strive for perfection

Young Illini QBs improving as veterans strive for perfection

URBANA — The Illinois football team is short on experienced depth at defensive tackle. Junior Kenyon Jackson wants to be part of the answer.

"I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been in," Jackson said. "I feel good."

Jackson is the top backup to starters Jamal Milan and Tymir Oliver. Jackson is a big fan.

"They mean everything," Jackson said. "Personally to me, they're my closest guys on the team. We push each other every day. It's competition no matter what we do. When we go back to the locker room, we talk about what we did right and what we did wrong."

The linemen are working with a new coach. Former Cal defensive lineman Austin Clark replaced Mike Phair, who took a job in the NFL with the Colts.

"I love him," Jackson said of Clark. "He's a technician coach. He's big on technique: hands, hips, feet. That's what he preaches every day we step on the field. If I do something right and the next play I do it wrong, he's going to preach on it like I didn't do it right the first play. I like that. He wants us to be perfect every single time. He wants us to try to make it to the league, so perfection is where I need to be."

After just four practices, Jackson said there is plenty of work left for the defensive linemen.

"We are not where we want to be yet, but we definitely have enough talent and skill," Jackson said.

Jackson isn't the only family member in the Power 5. His younger brother Koilan is a redshirt freshman receiver at Arkansas.

"I talked to him (Monday)," Jackson said. "He's doing well."

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So far, so good with the defensive linemen, first-year coach Clark said.

"Everything we talk about right now is just competing," Clark said. "Do everything full speed. Everything we do, we want to win. Whether that's a drill, a play, just hustling to the ball."

When he is teaching, Clark emphasizes the details of the position.

"We have to be very clear with what we expect them do to," Clark said. "With hand placement, with eyes, with footwork ... we hold them to a high standard."

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Clark is happy to be at Illinois and enjoys Champaign-Urbana.

It helps to have training camp so close to the coaching offices.

"This a phenomenal training-camp setup with the three fields, slightly away from campus," Clark said. "We've got everything we need here.

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Rod Smith is working with three freshmen quarterbacks, who are taking part in their first college camp.

"They're in the proverbial storm mentally sometimes," Smith said. "But they're doing some good things as well. They show flashes."

The two other scholarship quarterbacks have Power 5 experience, sophomore Cam Thomas at Illinois and graduate transfer A.J. Bush at Nebraska and Virginia Tech.

Bush has made an early impression on his offensive coordinator.

"He's trying to morph himself into this team as a leader, which is good," Smith said. "All our quarterbacks should do that."

Smith said Thomas has improved since the spring.

"He's gotten better," Smith said. "I've seen him making some throws he didn't make in the spring. We've still got to clean up some decisions at times, but that's all of them."

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The Illinois coaches are counting on a big season from running back Reggie Corbin.

"Reggie is hopefully one of our playmakers," Smith said. "I thought he tried to do a little too much (Tuesday). Too much wiggling and too much dancing. We've got to get him back to one-cut Reggie and let him do what he's good at."

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The Illini are changing their practice schedule for today, working in the morning instead of the scheduled 3 p.m. start.

Why the change?

"This is the routine that we want," Lovie Smith said. "We kind of like the morning practices. We like the recovery part of it too."

On Saturday, the team is working out at night inside Memorial Stadium. The session will be closed to the fans and media.

"We have a couple night games," Lovie Smith said. "I think it's the perfect way to practice at night with them having Sunday off."

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Sophomore defensive back Nick Walker, who got banged up during Monday's workout, didn't participate in practice Tuesday. He attended the workout and was on the sidelines.

"He'll be fine," Smith said. "I'm just going to hold him out a few days."

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The BTN studio crew plans to make its Illinois stop on Aug. 21. It will be the 12th leg on a tour of Big Ten campuses.

The bus with the giant BTN logo will include announcers Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and former Illini Howard Griffith. Another former Illini, J Leman, will be on the C-U visit.

In its 11th year on the air, BTN opened its annual tour with Monday's stop at Indiana.

The bus will be at Iowa on Aug. 20 and Purdue on Aug. 22. The tour ends at Revsine's alma mater Northwestern on Aug. 23.

Camp confidential

Day 4 is in the books for Illinois football training camp. Beat writer Bob Asmussen breaks it down:

WHAT HAPPENED TUESDAY

The quarterback competition remains the hot topic. Fifth-year transfer A.J. Bush has done what the coaches hoped he would: leading by example and with his voice. "He's an older guy, so he understands football," offensive coordinator Rod Smith said. "When we talk schemes and we talk coverage and we talk fronts to him, he understands that."

WHAT TO EXPECT TODAY

More hitting, but not too much more. The team wears full pads for the first time, but Lovie Smith said it won't impact the basics of practice. "Even with full pads," the Illinois coach said, "we don't do a lot of cutting and tackling down low."

Scheduling matters

Here's when the 10 remaining Illinois football training camp practices take place:

DATE TIME LOCATION

Wednesday 9-11 a.m. Campus Rec Fields

Thursday 9-11 a.m. Campus Rec Fields

Friday 9-11 a.m. Memorial Stadium

Saturday Closed Campus Rec Fields

Monday 9-11 a.m. Campus Rec Fields

Aug. 14 9-11 a.m. Campus Rec Fields

Aug. 15 3-5 p.m. Campus Rec Fields

Aug. 16 9-11 a.m. Campus Rec Fields

Aug. 17 9-11 a.m. Campus Rec Fields

Aug. 18 3-5 p.m. Memorial Stadium

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