2023 Spring Scrimmage

Apr 22, 2023

I wish that said "spring game" instead of "spring scrimmage", but something is better than nothing. With the thunderstorms last night, the spring game on BTN was canceled, replaced with a scrimmage tonight. "Game" being replaced by "scrimmage" means a few things:

  • They're practicing plays, not drives.
  • No one is trying to score.
  • No one is keeping score.
  • When there's a fumble scooped up by the defense (like there was tonight), the play is immediately blown dead even though a linebacker is returning it for a touchdown because the goal is to get that ball spotted wherever the sheet says it's supposed to be spotted so that they can run the next play and then the next play.

There's still a lot you can learn by watching a scrimmage like this, of course. It's just different from a spring game when there are teams competing against each other. This is situational practice.

As a result, it's hard to get a read on some things. They did run a lot of drives (meaning, in some scrimmages the ball is spotted at a pre-determined spot after every play), but tonight they continued with the drive. Still, if they weren't working on redzone plays, as soon as the ball got to the redzone, they'd end the drive without even attempting to score and turn to the second string offense (or whatever) for the next play.

I'm saying all of this so that my notes make sense. This won't read like my notes from the last two Bielema spring games. These are scrimmage notes. A scrimmage where important players like Johnny Newton and Keith Randolph played about six plays and then sat for the rest of the night.

When the first string offense sits Julian Pearl and Isaiah Adams after the first series and runs with true freshman Brandon Henderson at left tackle the rest of the game, you can't really get a read on whether the first string line is starting to gel. Defensive line play looks just a tiny bit different when Newton and Randolph leave the game. A scrimmage like this, to me, must be evaluated on how individual players looked, not "defense looked good". That's not our offense, and that's not our defense.

So here's my thoughts on individual players.

+ Star of the scrimmage, for me, was easily Pat Bryant. EASILY. I could see a scenario this fall where Isaiah Williams has 80 catches again and Pat Bryant has 50 catches... but Pat Bryant has more receiving yards than Isaiah Williams. Bryant simply has "it" when it comes to tracking the ball in the air. I'm firmly of the belief that he's an NFL wide receiver.

+ I'm working on the offensive line LLUOI article right now and I'll let you in on a little secret. I'll be naming my Asamoah Award winner when I publish that article (incoming freshman who should have been ranked WAY higher), and the player I'll be naming is freshman offensive lineman Brandon Henderson. Should have been ranked way, way higher. All of that "why wasn't this guy a 4-star?" stuff I wrote about Quan Martin or Pat Bryant when they won that award? I'm now saying it about Brandon Henderson.

+ Luke Altmyer appears to be the #1 QB going into the summer. We did get to see Donovan Leary snaps with the ones, but by the time he got those snaps, the first sting OL had a lot of backups in there. When the first string offense was together and humming, Altmyer was the guy. His running ability adds another dimension.

+ My youngest son was with me (he's in his 20's, so this is not a kid speaking), and the first thing he noted was how Josh McCray looks so different. Slimmer, more muscular. My son made a Le'Veon Bell comp, and while I do think that's a stretch, it's not my comp so let's run with it. Josh McCray = LeVeon Bell.

It seems like Reggie Love and Josh McCray and the very clear one-two punch at tailback (as we all expected). A third tailback will get some carries, and I honestly don't know who it will be. Could be Anderson, could be Laughery, could be Feagin. I'll put 3:1 odds on all three.

+ I think I now have four of the five guys in the secondary written in ink. Taz Nicholson returns, so he obviously holds down one of the corner spots. And I now have Tyler Strain in ink on the other side. At star, I have Xavier Scott written in ink. And once he returns to the field, I have Matt Bailey in ink at one of the safety spots (I say free, Carmen says strong).

So that leaves one more safety spot (either free or strong). The contenders appear to be Louisville Transfer Nicario Harper and redshirt freshman TJ Griffin. Both are in pencil because we could possibly see a freshman come in this summer and surprise everyone (like Bailey did last summer). So four guys in ink and then an open competition for the fifth spot. I probably won't use ink there until the week of the Toledo game.

+ You know who makes plays? Walkon linebacker Luke Zardzin makes plays. Remember the name Luke Zardzin.

+ I think I'm concerned about tight end. Well, I know I'm concerned about tight end. I have a very good idea about the rotation at nearly every position and I don't think I have any clue at tight end besides "Tip Reiman is the starter." We have a lot to figure out at that spot.

+ It will be interesting to see where Zy Crisler goes (and who goes to the bench) when he returns to the field in August. I feel like there are a few wildcards on the OL and we won't really know much until a few weeks before the Toledo game. Lots to learn there in August.

Other thoughts:

  • Johnny Newton and Keith Randolph are the best sideline cheerleaders we've had in a long time. They only got a few plays before they were packed in bubble wrap, but they made so much noise for their teammates (for the rest of the scrimmage). Great to see.
  • Name I was hoping to be saying a lot by now: Kionte Curry. I'm not saying his name.
  • I've said this before this spring but there's a clear top six at receiver right now. Williams-Bryant-Washington, Beatty-Wilcher-Miller.
  • Almost forgot: Bryce Barnes got the McCarthy scholarship tonight (given each year to a walkon who goes on scholarship). So update those scholarship grids.
  • Feel good about kicker. Feel good about punter.

OK, I cannot tell a lie. I just fell asleep after typing the word "punter" there. It's time to go to bed.

And dream of 1,200 Pat Bryant receiving yards.


SactownIllini on April 22, 2023 @ 11:07 AM

Thank you for the great analysis Robert! I was really excited to watch the Spring Game on TV again this year because last year I saw TDV and thought wow, he has something special about him not seen in these parts since Scheelhaase senior year. And thought if he plays like that in games, we might actually be good. I wanted to see a QB give me hope again. Sounds like I can keep hope alive with this potential Altmyer-Bryant connection. I think IW could also have a superstar season if others around him elevate.

jono426 on April 22, 2023 @ 03:59 PM

Solo Turner?

Leechcass on April 28, 2023 @ 08:34 AM

Here's hoping Bret can keep his record of 14, 1000 yd rushers in 13 years going. Maybe even 16, 1000 yd rushers 14 years.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.

Post Preview