Beat writer Scott Richey spotlights three noteworthy items from the second day of Illini football training camp:
Illinois shifted gears Monday in its third day of training camp to helmets and shoulder pads after a couple of days in just shorts and jerseys. The Illini didn't have their full complement of players, though, as a undisclosed "viral bug" has been passed around the team. Most notably missing was sophomore running back Josh McCray in addition to what Illinois coach Bret Bielema said was a few offensive linemen and defensive linemen.
"Battling through that, but overall have handled the health pretty good," Bielema said. "Everybody that started is still with us. ... We upped the ante a little bit (Monday). We had been going 18-period practices. We're jumping up over a 2 hour, 45 minute practice that we're out here. They'll be moving around on the grass for just shy of two hours."
Change of heart
Defensive linemen Keith Randolph and Johnny Newton were both interested in switching to No. 0 after the 2021 season. Randolph ultimately secured the lowest single digit available, and Newton wound up at No. 4. Then Randolph, after wearing No. 0 briefly in the spring before an injury sidelined him, opted to switch back.
"I didn't talk to Keith for a day," Newton said. "I found out on picture day. He didn't even tell me, so I didn't talk to him for a day."
Randolph just decided he didn't want to give up on No. 88 after wearing that number since he started playing football as a junior at Belleville West High School. How he landed on No. 88, of course, is a story in itself.
"I'm picking out numbers and coach was like, 'Here's 90. Here's 99,'" the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Randolph said. "I'm like, girls like receivers and quarterbacks. I'm thinking, OK, 88 is a receiver number. It just stuck and makes me look different."
Building a position group
Illinois essentially created a position out of thin air last season to better fit defensive coordinator Ryan Walters scheme when it turned its defensive ends into outside linebackers. Continued recruiting at that position, though, has churned out long athletes like 6-3, 215-pound Jared Badie and powerhouses like 6-3, 260-pound Gabe Jacas.
"Once we made this decision to go where we're at, we had a conversation about what we wanted these guys to look like," outside linebackers coach Kevin Kane said. "We want length. We want size. We're in the Big Ten, so we need big people that are still able to move and be athletic. We're identifying those types of guys in our recruiting process."