2019 Training Camp X: Mailbag Day Part One
Mailbag day! The genesis of Mailbag Day: I always wished I could ask questions of the people covering Camp Rantoul years ago. I figured there were other people just like me, so for one day each year, I'm your eyes and ears. You ask me what you want me to watch (well, those of you on Twitter ask me), and I put out a bunch of mailbag posts that day. I've got about eight hours before I'll be going to bed so let's see how many of these I can crank out.
What are Isaiah Williams' pre-snap reads looking like? Does he seem like he'd be overwhelmed if thrown into a big ten game/would he be able to make audibles?
-- Obi-Jon Kenobi (@jonwags18) August 9, 2019
I tried to watch for this and it's probably way too early to say. They're going to keep things very simple for him as he learns the offense. We should get a handle on his pre-snap read abilities some time in October of 2020. For now, in his seventh-ever practice, it's going to be as basic as possible.
There was one play today in a "tempo" drill (snap it fast and then line up and snap it again) where they were signaling-in plays from the sideline. On one play, he had to ask the GA giving the signal to sign it again. I sat there thinking about how hard this would be. You're in your seventh practice and you need to remember exactly what "wave at head, chop at knees, scratch shoulder, jazz hands" means. I was probably three years into my first job before my "Robert can you do this?" "Yeah, I can take care of that." ((asks coworker)) "How do you do that again?" went away. So I'm sure they're keeping it simple and adding one layer at a time for him.
Which is why what he did at the end of practice was impressive. They did a drill with "mixed" squads (first string linebackers playing with the second string defensive line, etc.) which was actual football. As in, the officials are spotting the ball, there's a clock, everything. The situation: You're at your own 30, there's 1:40 on the clock, you have one timeout, you need a field goal to win.
First up was Brandon Peters (he had the second-string offensive line to work with which included several freshman walkons today), and his drive stalled around the 50 yard line. Next up was Isaiah Williams (he had the first-string offensive line in front of him), and he looked the best he had all camp. In my cup-is-half-full-of-orange-and-blue-kool-aid analysis, I'm taking this to mean that when the lights come on, Isaiah Williams is at his best.
I can't remember all the plays, but he picked up two quick first downs which stopped the clock (one was a great scramble which is impressive because just one touch and he's "tackled"). He missed on two passes from around the defense's 45 or so (one was the "so glad he missed Jordan Holmes because had they connected, Holmes would have been tackled at the 42 and we would have had to burn the one timeout" variety), but on third and ten he escaped the pocket and delivered a strike to Josh Imatorbhebhe for a 15 yard gain and a first down. Williams scrambled his offense up to the line (clock stopped on first down so they didn't have to burn the timeout), sent Jakari Norwood up the middle for a decent gain down to the 15, and then, instead of rushing a play with about :08 on the clock, casually waited with the ref to call a timeout with :03 seconds left. On comes the kicking team, Caleb Griffin splits the uprights with a 32-yard field goal, "Illini win".
That was very encouraging to see. Everything is still going to be so overwhelming for him for at least another six weeks, but to run the offense in a drill like that to set up the "winning" field goal - that was impressive.
OK, one question down and I didn't even answer the question. On to the next!
Can he make people miss? I'm thinking Scheelhouse squirming by defenders like a dog in traffic
-- KevboNobo (@kevbonobo) August 9, 2019
This one wasn't specifically a Mailbag Day question but a question someone sent me about Williams during practice. So I guess it was a Mailbag Day question.
Yes, he can make people miss. More than any Illini quarterback in history. He is, already, without question, the most dangerous QB in the open field we've ever had. He has made someone look silly in every practice I've attended. Often multiple times. He's a human joystick. They're going to practice in the stadium tomorrow at 4:00 (just go) and he'll have at least two plays where you'll hear the crowd make a half-"whoop", half-giggle sound.
This is the reason Isaiah Williams was chosen as a 5-star as a sophomore in high school and why he was the #28 player in the country when he veballed to Illinois. He's one of the five most dynamic guys in this entire 2019 class nationally. The only comp I can come up with when he's running is some weird mix between Denard Robinson and Adoree Jackson. He's an elite, elite open-field runner.
The question, of course (and the reason he dropped in the rankings after attending the Elite 11 quarterback camp): can he avoid turnovers and consistently deliver the ball to his receivers? The Elite 11 evaluators said "no", ranking him near the bottom of their lists (which led to his overall ranking falling). That question remains, and will probably remain until at least midway through next season. Even great upperclassman passers can really struggle as true freshmen (Kurt Kittner as a freshman: 1 TD, 7 interceptions).
But specifically to the question "can he make people miss?", my God, can he ever.
Is he comparable to Antwaan Randle-El?
-- Thomas Zielke (@ThomasZielke) August 9, 2019
I think that's a great comp. Obviously, he has so much to prove in the area of "can he sling it like Randle-El?". But as a runner, I think that's definitely a great comp. 5'-9" or 5'-10", passed on as a QB recruit because he's too short, incredible with the ball in his hands.
One thing Randle-El had that Williams does not: a redshirt year. Randle-El was only a partial qualifier so he redshirted his first season at Indiana. I already know how much better Isaiah Williams will be a year from today and I just wish we could fast-forward to that day. Because he's going to come out as a true freshman and throw seven baad interceptions and you're going to view him like you viewed 2006 Juice and 1998 Kittner (and like you would have viewed 2009 Scheelhaase had he not redshirted). Quarterbacks can advance so much in those first 12 months (it's all about practice rep after practice rep), so in a perfect world, Peters or Robinson is the guy this year and Williams enters the fray next season.
But I don't think that's going to happen. We need him sooner rather than later, so as soon as he can play, he will play. Which means I'm going to answer your question this way:
Is he comparable to Randle-El? Hopefully, next season, he will be.
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