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Thoughts On The Scrimmage (All 15 Plays) August 13, 2011

I drove 3+ hours for that?

Yes. And I’d totally do it again.

I love Rantoul, Illinois. I love the Rantoul High School stadium. My high school played a playoff game there back in the day, and every Rantoul scrimmage makes me reminiscent for the days of Air Jordans, gelled hair, and the chrome rims on my Chrysler Laser. It’s also the first time each August that I get to see the team I love in action. So even if it’s only 15 plays, I’m still giddy. Right to it.

Terry Hawthorne returned the opening kickoff to the 40. And if he would have zigged when he zagged, he might have taken it to the house. I’ve been waiting a long time to see Hawthorne healthy and returning kicks. I’m hoping to see much, much more of that over the next two seasons.

From there, the scrimmage followed a theme: As It Should Be. The first string offense ran over the second string defense like they were scrimmaging against the Rantoul Eagles. As It Should Be. The first string defense didn’t let the second string offense move the ball one inch. As It Should Be. The second string offense got another shot against the first string D, but they went backwards. As It Should Be. The first string offense had a third and 11 against the second string D, but Scheelhaase hit Darius Millines across the middle for a 15 yard gain to keep the drive moving. As It Should Be.

The only bad play by the first string was the last play before the lightning hit – Scheelhaase floated a pass to Ryan Lankford that Miami Thomas was able to get a hand on and knock away. But even if Lankford would have pulled it in, there was a holding call on the offensive line, so the play was coming back. I’m pretty sure that was the final play. A spider web of lighting and a crackle and boom and we were done. But there were individual things that stuck out to me in my first camp viewing of the summer:

+ When the players line up to stretch, they line up in the depth chart. Many times, players are put in a certain spot for motivational purposes. So it’s not exactly the depth chart per se. But here’s how they lined up: Heitz-Cornell-Pocic-Thornton-Allen, Scheelhaase-Ford-Prosch, E. Wilson, Millines-Sykes-Lankford for the offense. Buchanan-Spence-Wilson-Mercilus, Brown-Thomas-Henry, T. Wilson-Sanni-PNY-Hawthorne for the defense.

Some surprises for me in the second string: Valdon Cooper second string cornerback, Jack Ramsey and Justin Green lined up at second string safety (where was STEVEHULL tonight?), and walk-on Nate Swanson as the backup at Right Tackle (Cvijanovic lined up at second string left tackle).

Again, you can’t ever read too much into that depth chart – I’ve seen starters lined up with the third string in a motivational move. But when you see a guy like Valdon Cooper running with the twos, you start to think that he might play as a true freshman.

+ Speaking of true freshmen, I was very surprised to see Henry Dickinson rotating in with the ones. I’m not sure if he lined up at the Will or the Mike – by the time I realized he was out there with the first string, he was jogging off the field – but it was interesting to see. Is he possibly in front of Houston Bates or Brandon Denmark at this point?

+ The second string offense had no answer for a linebacker blitzing from the corner. Jonathan Brown and Trulon Henry both had their way around the corner – Miles Osei was touch-sacked 2 of the 6 plays that the second string offense ran. And he’s lucky he was wearing a red jersey – he would have been leveled had this been a live game.

+ The first string offense did exactly what they needed to do. From memory, first play was Jason Ford right up the gut for 20 yards. Then a short pass to Lankford for 6 or so yards, followed by Ford for 5 yards and a first down. Then a sideline route to Darius Millines where he broke, I think, 17 tackles before being dragged down around the 10. Next play was another run to Ford around left tackle behind Jay Prosch for the touchdown. Never a third down, 60 yards in 5 plays for the touchdown. Very impressive. As It Should Be.

+ Then it was the first string defense’s turn to impress. From what I can remember, Craig Wilson ran over his guy and blew up a play, Hawthorne had a nice tackle on Donovonn Young near the sideline, Bussey and Brown off the corners for sacks, and Tavon Wilson went up and made a play on a deep pass to Jake Kumerow. The second string offense looked 1996-lost out there. As It Should Be.

Edit: And by “Bussey”, I obviously mean “Henry”. He looked very Bussey-like out there tonight. This is a very good thing.

+ The only other thing I can remember is Austin Teitsma making a play in the second series for the second 1-O, 2-D series. He’s a little pest in there. Little is a bad thing. Pest is a good thing.

+ During warmups, all I watched was the punters. I wanted to get my eyes on DuVernois’ leg. First impression: solid. He shanked a few, but he hit some boomers that had me genuinely excited. He was punting with Matt Eller and #26, who I first thought was Brad Janitz (#36), but apparently it was freshman Taylor Zalewski. Both Zalewski and Eller hit a few nice punts, near the same distance as DuVernois. But when they really got into the ball, DuVernois had the best hang time by far. The question now: how will he do standing in the end zone at Penn State with the game on the line? He appears to have the leg – will he have the nerves?

That’s about it. Not much can be taken from 15 plays. But I’m pretty excited that they’ll be scrimmaging again tomorrow. It was going to be an off-day where I sit around and work on the first of many “A Lion Eye on the Illini” full-length podcasts (oops, did I just spill the beans?), but I guess I can get to that in the evening.

Hmmm… if I can put down 1,000 words on 15 plays, I should be able to crank out 3,000 words tomorrow, right?

As It Should Be.

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