2019 Training Camp V - Sunday's Practice

Aug 04, 2019

Went to practice. Drove home. Went to the neighborhood pool with my wife and washed some of the sun off. Went do dinner with my wife where a kind street performer entertained us on the flute (it was awesome and we tipped him $10 which wasn't nearly enough). And now I'm back at home. Clear eyes, full heart, camp views...

1. The Offense Was Better

A lot of it, I'm sure, was having both Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczweski together on the first string line. Lowe had a final on Friday, Palcho had a final on Saturday. So this was the first day where the full first-string line was out there. It's also the first day where we saw some untouched-through-the-hole runs from Corbin, Brown, and Epstein. Epstein had one that was so very incredibly gone. South Florida game last year gone.

That was missing the first two days, especially from the first string offensive line, and I was concerned. If we're practicing against the worst defense in the Big Ten from last year, we'd better at least be opening up some 2018 holes. The holes were there today.

I'm sure shoulder pads had some to do with it as well. There can still be holes where you're just playing in helmets, but it seems like the line play gets way more physical once the shoulder pads go on (on both sides). Solid line play was a sight for sore eyes today.

Quarterbacking was a mixed bag. Matt Robinson was solid in 7 on 7 and got the first reps in 11 on 11 and just as I'm tweeting that he throws a pick to Tony Adams and gets pulled for Peters. Isaiah Williams had a really good series (best I've seen from him) and followed it up later with a really bad series. Peters throws a dart one play and you get excited and then he holds it too long and gets sacked the next play.

Again, still way early, still putting in different stuff, still just the third day ever for Williams and Peters running this offense. So I'm reaching here a little bit. Still, you can tell that there's some concern about the performance of the QB's.

2. Defensive End is all set?

I listened to Lovie's press scrum afterwards (listened and didn't record - I asked my one question of the year yesterday). He said one thing that surprised me. Someone asked him if Lere Oladipo might help at DE and he said that Oladipo was needed inside (at defensive tackle) because (I can't remember the exact quote here) something like "we're set at defensive end". Are we?

To me, I feel like we're "set" at defensive tackle and that might allow guys like Oladipo, Deon Pate, and Jamal Woods to help out at defensive end where we're a little thinner. Especially with Bobby Roundtree not in the lineup. Here's what I mean. Leaving the freshmen out of it for now (I doubt any of them will be ready game one), here's the depth for each spot:

Defensive tackles: Tymir Oliver, Jamal Milan, Jamal Woods, Calvin Avery, Lere Oladipo, Kenyon Jackson, Deon Pate
Defensive ends: Owen Carney, Isaiah Gay, Wole Betiku, Marc Mondesir, Ayo Shogbonyo, Ezekiel Holmes

You feel way better about DT than DE, right? I feel really good about the first five names on the DT list but I probably only feel good through three names on the DE list. We have what we need at DE?

Maybe I need to to stop with the "leaving the freshmen out of it because I doubt they will be ready to play". Maybe Keith Randolph will be in the starting lineup against Akron or something.

3. Freshman Power Rankings

You know how writers will be all "here's my college basketball power rankings" and then they'll rank Xavier ahead of Duke and Duke fans will be all ((yelling)) and the writers will say "these are power rankings, not regular rankings" and you say "oh I get it - wait, what does that even mean"? That's what I'm going to do here. I'm going to unfairly rank the freshmen completely based on their contributions so far after three days. This list is not:

  1. My expectations for who will have the Illini best career
  2. My rankings on which freshmen are the most talented
  3. Some big declaration that the higher-ranked guys are busts

It's simply "these freshmen have hit the ground running and don't seem intimidated by camp at all". At least when compared to other freshmen who are swimming a little bit. Did I disclaim enough? I doubt it. When you see where Cooper is ranked, you're going to throw tomatoes at me.

The list:

1. Casey Washington
2. Keith Randolph
3. Isaiah Williams
4. Tarique Barnes
5. Kyron Cumby
6. Marquez Beason
7. Moses Okpala
8. Shammond Cooper
9. Seth Coleman
10. Dalevon Campbell
11. Griffin Moore
12. Nick Fedanzo
13. Evan Kirts
INC. Joseph Thompson (injured, hasn't played)
INC. Josh Plohr (injured, hasn't played)

Just know that I have a tennis racket and on the handle of the tennis racket you'll see the words "these are just power rankings, people" and any tomatoes you throw at me will be hit by that tennis racket.

(Wait, a tennis racket hitting a tomato is probably a bad idea.)

4. Sweet But Psycho

I should be talking about Palcho more. He turned 20 yesterday (20! When he went to Big Ten Media Days he was a 19 year-old junior!). I just feel like had he been held back a year (at his first practice as a freshman he was 17 years old), he would have been a 4-star recruit in the 2018 class. Like, he was discovered late during his senior season (which maybe should have been his junior season) in high school. Had he been discovered then but had a full year of camps and such before he made a decision, this would have been a four-star kid with offers from everyone.

That's really what we have here. This baby-faced kid (honestly, he still looks 18) who is basically a four-star offensive tackle. Baby-faced kid, somewhat soft spoken, and then he gets out on the field and destroys you. See? Sweet but psycho. A left (tackle) but he's right though.

He missed practice for a final yesterday (man, a final on your birthday - that sucks), and as I mentioned above, having him back in there made such a difference with the first string offensive line. So much of the "really started to run the ball effectively" above can probably be directly tied to Palcho being back in there.

And yes, that can be viewed as a bad thing. If there's a massive drop-off from first string to second string, well, you have some Illinois football happening. The point where there's not a dropoff is usually the point where you start winning.

But I really do think he can be a monster the next two seasons. A monster right tackle when you're trying to run the ball is a very good thing. Let's find four more.

(We might actually have three more, so we might only need to find one more.)

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