Fall training camp is underway. And like last year, the first week is closed off to the public. The media gets to attend the first 30 minutes of practice to watch them stretch and warm up with their position groups, but after that they're (we're?) not allowed at practice until everything is finished and they can come back in to get some interviews.
As such, I call this gleaning week. Everyone is search of information, but there's very little to be had. Yes, you can see Aaron Bailey and Wes Lunt throw for the first time, but they're really just warming up. Yes, you can ask Tim Beckman how his secondary looks, but you have to write your story based on his answer, not your own observation.
Which is why I save my vacation time at work to go up for Rantoul, when everything is open to the public and the media (I'll be there all week next week #nextweek). It's my favorite thing on earth. The team gets to bond, the fans get to watch, and the bloggers get to generate a little preseason excitement. I hope Illinois does a Camp Rantoul for the next 40 years. I can only imagine what it will be like when we're, like, actually good at football.
There have been three practices so far, two yesterday and one this morning. They split the squad in half and have one team practice in the morning and one in the afternoon. The next day, they switch mornings and afternoons. Friday they practice as a team, Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day, and then it's straight north on Route 45. I've watched a lot of the post-practice interviews and read some of the twitter quotes (mostly I just spend my time here, which is a great site that the DIA has put up), and this is what I've gleaned:
1) Tim Beckman, cornerbacks coach
I'm sure this is the lead story everywhere today (I try not to read what others write, as I don't want to, as Louis CK would say, get their thoughts "sucked up into the rocket engine" and someday post them as my own), but Tim Beckman said yesterday after practice that he's coaching the cornerbacks this fall. As I noted on the football board yesterday, um, WHOA. Here's what Beckman said on the video:
"I spent the whole time with the corners, you know, because that's what I'm coaching. I'm in the meeting rooms with the corners and we're out here working with the corners to try to make them the best. We're extremely young but that's what I love doing and now that's what I'm doing."
So many thoughts on this. As you may or may not know, Ron Zook wasn't really a position coach at practice. When they would break out into position groups at practice, where each player goes to his position coach and works on some drill, Zook would be here and Zook would be there. That's the thing that most head coaches do (although some, specifically scheme coaches who work primarily on one side of the ball like Bobby Petrino, take a position group at breakouts). Zook somewhat did this at the end of his tenure here, as the last two years he was more or less the special teams coach. I will stop commenting on that subject here and move forward.
Last year, Beckman wasn't a position coach. He was here and there and everywhere at practice. From my observation, he was mostly with the defense, but I did see him take part in several offensive sessions. This year, he's our cornerbacks coach. Whoa.
Last year's defense was Keith Gilmore for the line, Mike Ward for the linebackers, Steven Clinkscale for the cornerbacks, and coordinator Tim Banks took the safeties. So I guess this year it's Greg Colby for the line, Mike Ward for the interior linebackers, Al Seamonson for the Leos and the Stars, TIM BECKMAN for the cornerbacks, and Tim Banks for the safeties. Weird.
It's not like Beckman doesn't have experience doing that. He was Jim Tressel's cornerbacks coach in 2005 and 2006, tutoring guys like Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith for their 2006 team that reached the title game. But it's still weird for me to think that the head coach is spending that much time in meetings with cornerbacks.
My HOT SPORTS TAKE: He didn't like his cornerback play last year. So he Pedro Cerrano'd that thing.
2) I Heard A Marchie In There
As you may know, I give out what I call the Asamoah Award each year. It goes to the lower-ranked recruit who I believe, from watching his film, will make an early and significant impact at Illinois (just like Jon Asamoah did). This year's recipient : Texas wide receiver Marchie Murdock. His junior film was just OK. His senior film was WOWZERS.
So I spend a lot of selfish time this first week hoping to hear the name of my Asamoah Award winner. And there it was this morning. Tim Beckman, in the video on the page I linked above, saying "Marchie Murdock had a great day today". BOOM. (Yes, gleaning that small amount of information is a BOOM for me.)
3) Hitch Update
I'm anti-hitch when it comes to my quarterbacks. It's why I wasn't in the Jacob Charest camp back in 2009/2010. It took him a long time to wind up and release the ball, and those split seconds can mean the difference between a completed pass and an interception.
So as Reilly O'Toole kinda sorta developed a hitch in his throw over the past year, I've been waiting to see him get those mechanics corrected. O'Toole is the forgotten man right now, with Wes Lunt now practicing and Aaron Bailey on the field (AARON BAILEY ON THE FIELD!). But he's still very much our backup quarterback right now, and if he can improve those mechanics and grasp this offense, there's a chance he could even push Nate for the starting job.
So I watched all of the film and saw him throw a few passes. Hitch grade: B. He doesn't seem to have the long reach-back windup anymore, but he still isn't getting the ball up and out as quickly as Nate. Windups like that can mess with your accuracy, and a QB in this system will need to be accurate, so here's to Bill Cubit continuing to refine O'Toole's mechanics. Need to have a Hitch Grade of at least an A- by the season.
In the Greg Colby interview, he confirmed that freshman defensive lineman Jarrod Clements goes by "Chunky". It's a childhood nickname that has stuck (like Juice).
This is, without a doubt, very exciting news. I'm pretty much done calling him Jarrod Clements. I've hinted at using "Chunky" before, but having a coach use the name at his very first practice cinches it. Chunky it is, for the next four years (hopefully three).
5) Aaron Bailey On The Field
AARON BAILEY ON THE FIELD.