2019 Training Camp XIII: Mailbag Day Part Four


Robert
Aug 10, 2019
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1 Comments

I'm totally drinking Camp Juice as I write these. What's Camp Juice? It's this Minute Maid juice (or "juice", apparently) that I started drinking last week at camp and since I am like I am it's now my thing. When I'm in Champaign, I will go to the store and purchase Camp Juice to drink while I write at camp. Every person reading this who knows me in real life just nodded their head and said "yep, that's him".

How are the student managers looking?

-- Saucy Rossy (@nathanmross) August 9, 2019

Student Manager Power Rankings:

Just kidding. I haven't been paying attention so I don't really know any of the student managers. But the student managers reading this just got really excited for a moment.

That's not true. I did watch the student managers for a bit. One of the coaches told one of the student managers "hey I need that thing" and the student manager went over and got the thing and brought it to the coach and said "hey coach, here's the thing" and the coach said "thank you for bringing me the thing."

I made that up. A coach would never thank a student manager for bringing him something.

(The student managers reading this are now laughing out loud.)

Brandon Peters mobility in the pocket. Does he fit what Rod Smith wants so far?

-- J.L. (@JakeWilliam_35) August 9, 2019

I honestly don't know. I'm going to write a bunch of words here, but keep in mind as you're reading them, I honestly don't know.

Let's call it OC/QB mesh. For an example of OC/QB mesh, let's look at Bill Cubit and Nathan Scheelhaase. Most Illini fans disliked that Cubit offense, and with good reason. It should have been so much better in 2014 and 2015 but it was only really "good" in 2013. And it was good in 2013 because of how will Cubit the OC and Scheelhaase the QB meshed. It just worked.

The year before, with Scheelhaase as a junior, there was no mesh. The Billy Gonzales/Chris Beatty offense just didn't work for Nate, and as a junior, after solid freshman and sophomore campaigns, Scheelhaase had his worst season. No mesh.

Did that mean that Cubit was the answer? Was he the QB whisperer? We kind of thought so after 2013, but then Scheelhaase graduated, Wes Lunt came in (a four-star QB hand-picked for that offense), and it just didn't click. For whatever reason, they just didn't really mesh. Cubit's best season as an OC (2013) was with a QB recruited for his running ability.

Yes, some of this is talent. The QB struggles in 2004 weren't really a "mesh" thing - Ron Turner just couldn't find another QB like Kurt Kittner. Sometimes you just don't have a QB. But sometimes you do, and I think Peters counts as "we do" given his recruiting rankings and decent play as a freshman at Michigan, so now it's up to a Rod Smith mesh.

What does Rod Smith prefer? I think that's fairly obvious. Since he was hired as offensive coordinator he's recruited Matt Robinson (who can run), AJ Bush (who can run), and Isaiah Williams (who can really run). Now, with the freshman QB who played in 2017 (Cam Thomas) and the freshman QB who played in 2018 (MJ Rivers) transferring out, the staff went out and added an upperclassman QB. And that upperclassman is known more for his arm than his feet. But maybe that will still mesh?

When you ask "does he fit what Rod Smith wants", I think my answer is "no, but they might still mesh?". It's not that Peters can't run. Someone I was talking to at camp (can't remember who) said that they think he can run at the same level as MJ Rivers - just enough to keep you honest. If that's the case (I'm not sure if it is but we'll see), then I do think Rod has something he can work with. Scheelhaase meshed with Cubit something fierce, so maybe this is a square peg that fits in a round hole?

Calvin Avery continuously had illegal hands to the face penalties last year and Kendrick Green was an illegal man down field every other play. Can you watch to see if either line has taken steps forward by reducing their penalty output?

-- Josh Greenberg (@Joshgocubsgo) August 9, 2019

Ah yes - penalties. The great medicine for when August Syndrome flares up. You can watch five straight plays where the offense is really moving the ball at camp and think "heyyy, this team might really be getting somewhere" and then remember that right in the middle of those five plays was probably a holding call. And that holding call probably killed the promising drive. And once the real football starts, turnovers and penalties kill all the positive vibes you were feeling in August.

And yes, I do recall one play where the coaches got all over Avery for getting under the facemask and pushing up. They'll be attempting to cure all of those drive-extending penalties while here at camp, but at least for now, no cure.

As one of your friends points out later in the Twitter thread, the ineligible man downfield concern is with Lowe, not Green, right? Maybe I'm forgetting Green penalties for last year. Regardless, I think the answer to that one is with the officials. Some of the play calls we saw from Rod last year push things right to the edge of ineligible man downfield every time. Remember the Fitzee tirade on how every single RPO (run-pass option) play is probably illegal because the offensive linemen are run blocking on an eventual pass play? It's a tough call for officials - they could call so many more - so if you see that happen again this year, I'd say it's on the play structure more than the lineman.

To the overall point, I'm still concerned. Penalties will probably be part of our lives again.

Based on what you've seen, can the wide receiver position be a net positive this season? At least catch the ball consistently? Will Casey Washington shatter your LLUOI prediction?

-- Kyle Huisinga (@KHuisinga85) August 9, 2019

For those not on Twitter, I retracted my Casey Washington rating (1.5 Tom Cruises) about 40 minutes into the first practice. I think this kid is the goods. I did that "true freshman power ranking" thing about eight posts ago and I had Washington #1 - I'd still have him #1 after watching 3-4 more practices. I believe he's the most college football-ready of the freshmen in this class.

(Note: If Isaiah Williams was at WR and not QB I'd probably put him #1 - it's just that QB is nearly impossible to learn in four weeks of camp.)

Now, I've fallen for receivers at camp before and then the real football arrives and the blocking isn't there or the dependable route running isn't there and those receivers don't play. There's a lot more to playing WR than athleticism and great hands. But for now, I'm very high on Washington (and was very wrong on his film).

Will the WR position be a "net positive"? I don't think so. They're just trying to get it back to neutral from "huge negative". There's a long way to go.

But it's better, which is what you're wanting to hear. If healthy, the USC transfers can help a lot. So can the seniors like Reams and Davis. So can Casey Washington.

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Comments

resweeney@gmail.com on August 10 @ 12:50 PM CDT

Robert: Thanks for your thoughts and observations based on your attendance at camp. Many of your comments have been encouraging. However, my heart really sunk when you indicated that -- so far -- the linebackers remain deficient in pass coverage and too many penalties are likely to still be a problem.

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