2019 Training Camp XI: Mailbag Day Part Two
It's kinda crazy that this is my thing. Like, I think I could answer mailbag questions about Illinois football for 31 hours straight without tiring. Just such a weird thing to care about. Illini Football never pays me back, but here I am, happily typing along. Like, if you offered me front row Rolling Stones tickets or an early screening of the latest Star Wars movie or a night sitting in a hotel room answering Illini football mailbag questions, I'd choose this every time. That's so messed up.
You guys (writers covering the team) mention 7 on 7 in practice a lot. How does that work? Are there 4 specific players that aren't on the field (linebackers for example)? Is it always done the same way? What's the point of drilling with 36% less guys? Thanks
-- Todd Terbeek (@tterbeek) August 9, 2019
It's football without the linemen. Quarterbacks, tailbacks, tight ends, and receivers against linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties.
Technically it's "6 on 7" football. There's no offensive formation with six receivers going out for a pass (unless it's Vederian Lowe at Iowa HEY-OH), so it's whatever offensive formation they're using (twin tight ends, one tailback, two receivers or four receivers and a tailback or three receivers, one tight end, and one tailback) vs. the back seven.
When those drills are happening, the linemen are somewhere else doing lineman stuff (most likely one-on-one pass rush drills). So you're basically seeing a student manager snap the ball to the QB (the manager is on one knee underhanding a spiral to him) and then it's a pass play without the pass rush. Quarterback is in the pocket, his receivers are running their routes, the back seven of the defense are making their reads ("who picks up the tailback if he slides out to the left like that?"), and the coaches are pointing out the correct/incorrect reads.
If you've ever wondered how a cornerback knows when to release his guy to the safety and when to stay with him (based on whatever the call is), it was likely rep after rep after rep in 7 on 7.
Does anyone in the back 7 have a good Peanut Punch (TM)?
-- Curch of Dressel (@CurchOfDressel) August 9, 2019
See how I arranged these? Talk about the back 7, roll into a question about the back 7. #blogging #professional #thisishowwedoit #montrelljordan
In short, no. They certainly work on it, and when they're doing the bump drill, which is all the time (no tackling - basically two-hand touch), so they're constantly trying to strip the ball. That's basically how every play ends. Jakari Norwood takes a handoff, fights through the line, linebackers make contact, play is whistled dead, Norwood keeps going (because the tailbacks are instructed to keep going on every play so that they get used to keeping their legs churning), and then some member of the secondary will come up and try to pop the ball loose. They're not all "peanut punches", but they're at least trying to get a hand on the ball to rip it out.
As to who might have the best Peanut Punch, I think I'll vote for Quan Martin. There was one play today where Donny Navarro caught a pass, Quan Martin arrived a half second later and got his hand in on the ball, as Navarro fell to the ground Martin dislodged the ball... and then Navarro caught it out of the air to complete the reception. Martin let out an "AAAAAH" and clapped his hands. Did 95% of his job, dislodged the ball, but unfortunately it fluttered right down to the receiver on the ground. (Or fortunately, if you were cheering for the offense.)
Wait - I did see one peanut punch yesterday. Trevon Sidney caught a pass, Kerby Joseph came across and went for the punch out... and punched Sidney right in the peanuts. Sidney was on his knees in the "just don't move and the pain will eventually subside" position for the necessary 45 seconds. That's a pro move.
Who has been your "breakout" guy so far this camp?
-- Nathan Williams (@KnoxIllini2) August 9, 2019
Man, Craig moving out of state has really put a damper on the "my guys" thing. It used to be one of my favorite days at camp (Craig and I would stand on the sidelines and each pick a team of five "our guys"), but he could only do it remotely last year and probably can't make it to camp at all this year.
I might still pick a team of My Guys just to keep the tradition going, but for now, let me think about a breakout guy. I'll try to stick to guys already on the team (not the true freshmen) so that it's a true "he's ready to have a breakout moment" guy. Can I give you three? I'll give you three.
1. Tony Adams
I went to see Adams play in high school (St. Louis University High, not even two miles from where I live) and their defense was basically this: ten guys play up near the line of scrimmage and then Tony Adams plays 20 yards deep in centerfield and cleans up everything. His first year here he was a cornerback, his second year (last year) he moved to free safety, and this year, back at free safety again, it feels like he's ready for a breakout season. Let him play centerfield and clean up everything.
2. Daniel Barker
Let me start by saying that Barker is going to get an excessive celebration penalty this year. He just is. I'm surprised he didn't get one last year for his dance after the touchdown in the Minnesota game. He's a very excitable kid.
And after nine receptions as a true freshman, I think he's ready for a bit of a breakout season. Rod Smith needs a receiving threat at tight end, and with Luke Ford having to sit out his transfer season, Barker is the guy.
3. Owen Carney
He certainly looks the part now. Quite the imposing figure at defensive end. If you're looking for the guy who will be replacing Roundtree (no one is going to "replace" Roundtree), Carney is your man. Remember - he came down to Illinois or Florida State. He was a big get in the recruiting game.
He certainly had his struggles last year (which guy on the defense didn't?), but now that he's a junior, I think he's ready to lead the team in sacks. Again, he won't be Roundtree, but he is ready for a breakout.
Thanks for reading. Our work is supported by reader subscriptions here. The format: five free reads in a month, a subscription is required to access the sixth article. So please consider a subscription to IlliniBoard. $24 for a year, $3 for a month. Thanks for your support. Subscription information available here.