Training Camp 2017 XV: Mailbag II
Let's go to the emails for this mailbag post. I'll just use first names and last initial - I never know if people would be skittish about me using their full name. On Twitter, yes, they're submitting under their full name (most of the time). On email, well, I usually just go with first name and last initial. I don't know why I'm telling you this. Right to it:
Love this time of the year, even with what will most likely be a mediocre W-L record. Your writing certainly adds to the excitement, thanks.
Here's my question. Can you squint, or look into your crystal ball, and see anyone on the Illini defense where you would make a comparison to the playmakers on the Bears defenses of Lovie's era? Believe me, I'm not suggesting our youngbloods are NFL pro bowlers. But given the scheme, does anyone have a chance to be our collegiate versions of a Peanut Tillman, ballhawking and punching us to turnovers? Our Urlacher? Tommie Harris? Lance Briggs? Mike Brown?
This would be so much easier for Craig since I ~~am~~ was a Rams fan. But I know enough about those Bears defenses to at least give it a shot.
First off, as you suggested, of course there's not an actual Briggs, Urlacher, or Tommie Harris on this team. If there were, even at this age, I wouldn't be able to stop talking about them. Every practice I'd report how much they were dominating every drill in the way Corey Liuget used to dominated every drill. I know you weren't asking the question literally, but I wanted to get that out of the way first.
Are there players who resemble those roles that made Lovie's defense so great? If I'm honest, not yet. Not having that clean-up-any-mistake-up-front linebacker is an issue. Not that linebacker isn't a deep group. There's just no superstar like Briggs or Urlacher. My two biggest concerns recruiting-wise so far: 1) we haven't landed the quarterback of the future. 2) I'm not sure we've landed the defensive quarterback of the future (MLB) either. It's why #1 and #2 on my recruiting WANT list were Chicago QB Quincy Patterson (Virginia Tech) and St. Louis LB Ayodele Adeoye (Texas). We need superstars, and I think both will be college superstars.
So I know it's not the answer you were hoping to hear, but Jaylen Dunlap is as close as we get to Peanut, but Dunlap is a senior so that's not a player for the future. Linebacker? Good depth but no superstars (at least that I can see just yet) so no Urlacher or Briggs. Good depth at DT, too, but no Tommie Harris (although Calvin Avery's film looks amazing). Mike Brown? That's probably the closest we get. I really, really like Pat Nelson at safety. I think he can be a future all-conference player. And maybe even a Mike Brown.
TL;DR: We're building depth but we need to land more future superstars like Avery.
If he's practicing, how does Mikey Dudek look?
He's practicing. Well, sometimes. He practiced last Wednesday when I was there. And then practiced again twice this week. But the other practices he's taking it easy. They want him 100% come Ball State (actually, they probably want him 100% come Nebraska), so they'll ease him back into everything and make sure the knee responds well.
When he's in there, he's Mikey. Miami Thomas came back from two ACL surgeries and just wasn't ever the same. Mikey has come back from two knee surgeries (on the same knee) and looks like himself again.
Now, it's hard for me to say that since I was hiding my eyes every time he did something last week (it will take some time for me, OK?), but he told me the knee feels great and he doesn't really think about it at all. Back to where he was.
I've been reading your blog for at least 3 years (since being a freshman). Anyway for the mailbag tomorrow could you report on the rough completion percentage of the quarterbacks as well as the pass run split. From what you've already reported most plays are situational so the latter might be hard to truly determine for gameday.
Thanks and keep up the good writing,
I'll start with the second one first. Like you said, it's hard to determine this from practice. They script out plays in advance. They'll run a 3rd and 3 situation, pick up the "first down", and then the next play is 2nd and 9. They're not calling plays based on down and distance - they're just practicing plays.
My opinion of run/pass split is that we will try to run the ball more. I don't know that - they're just getting the young guys to learn all of the sets and the different plays called from those sets - but from the personnel I'm watching I'm thinking we'll be more successful running the ball than passing the ball. We saw flickers from the run game last year - hopefully this year those turn into flames.
(I say that now and once the season comes we'll probably say "Dudek and Turner are the whole offense everything starts with getting them the ball".)
As for the completion percentage, right now I'd say that it's not good. I'm telling you right now, Crouch is going to miss some open receivers in the non-conference and the crowd is going to get very restless. It's all a learning process to get him though those first six starts so that he'll hopefully have a really solid final 18 games as the starting QB, but expect grumblings when Dudek loses his man but the ball isn't on time. Remember tuck-and-run sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase? My guess is we'll see a lot of that.
Jeff George Jr. probably has a higher completion percentage, but not by much. He's thrown a few too many picks, though, so he has a lot to clean up as well. Honestly, the best completion percentage might be Cam Thomas? He's running with the threes (and facing the third string defense), so those numbers are a bit skewed. The third string defense is riddled with walkons, and a freshman quarterback SHOULD pick them apart.
But I want to end this on a high note and Cam Thomas will be that high note. I came in with low expectations and he's far exceeded them. Really impressed with that kid.