Camp Rantoul Awards August 21, 2011
It’s strange to me that this is the 6th time I’ve done this. It feels like I started this blog 8 months ago, but when I looked up the old award winners, there’s the Spring 2009 list. Better yet, Jerry Brown was still on the roster when I did the first awards. I feel like he left school 4 years ago.
Anyway, let’s go through the former award winners:
Spring 2009 – Spring Ball Crush: Mikel Leshoure; Eye Opening Player: Jerry Brown
Camp Rantoul 2009 – Camp Crush: Juice Williams; Eye Opening Player: Joelil Thrash
Spring 2010 – Spring Ball Crush: Nathan Scheelhaase; Eye Opening Player: Justin Staples
Camp Rantoul 2010 – Camp Crush: Corey Liuget; Eye Opening Player: Evan Wilson
Spring 2011 – Spring Ball Crush: Jonathan Brown; Eye Opening Player: Spencer Harris
Looks like I need to find two new award winners. Because in Rantoul, the player I couldn’t stop watching was Jonathan Brown. And the player that led to the most “wow, him again?” moments was Spencer Harris. So I think I’ll have to get a bit creative with these awards, because awarding them to the same two guys again would be like making a “most exciting Illini basketball comebacks” list for the next 100 years – who will care if the answers don’t change?
Lucky for me, there were two other guys that really stuck out. Both were in contention for Camp Crush, but I’ll give them each an award.
2011 Camp Rantoul Camp Crush: Tavon Wilson
He tackles well. He hits hard. He blankets receivers. He takes away the middle. After a year of playing out of position at safety, Tavon Wilson has returned to cornerback, and in my opinion, is poised for a big year.
At Monday’s practice, I started noticing that in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, no QB was throwing to the guy Wilson was covering. And if they did, he was usually knocking it away. There was one play in particular where Tavon was covering Darius Millines on an out route. Wilson was right with him, and O’Toole tried to put the ball where only Millines could get to it. The problem – the place where only Millines could get to it was out of his reach and out of bounds. As they ran off the sideline and right towards me, I could hear them laughing. Tavon was giving him the “you guys think you can complete a pass on me?” routine, and all Darius could do was laugh. That pass pattern had no chance with Wilson on his heels.
For the rest of the week, I saw a lot of the same. Especially when we were in the nickel with Tavon taking away the inside guy. He’s almost a linebacker in some of these situations, and he’s perfectly suited for it. Tight ends, slot receivers, tailbacks motioning into the slot – Tavon took the routes away from everyone. With Corey Liuget gone, we desperately need some seniors to step up and lead this defense. I think Tavon is one of those guys.
(Other candidates for this award: Jonathan Brown, Jeff Allen, and Jay Prosch)
2011 Camp Rantoul Eye Opening Player: Darius Millines
In truth, Darius was in a three-horse race for Camp Crush with Tavon and Jonathan Brown. I usually reserve the EOP award for a guy that’s a bit under the radar (like Spencer Harris). But hey, even though he returned kicks and was our best blocking wide receiver last year, Darius still only had 2 catches on the season. That still qualifies him for under-the-radar.
Although not for long. Because I think he’s clearly our #2 receiver right now. Actually, that’s not bold enough. If someone watched practice this week and didn’t know the team’s statistics last year, I think they would easily say that Millines is the best receiver on this team – even better than AJ. He just has that extra burst out of his cuts that the other receivers just don’t have.
How will we use him this year? Maybe in the Jarred Fayson role from last year – settle into weak spots in the zone, catch and go. There were a couple times in a couple scrimmages where Millines spun so quickly after a 7 yard catch that the defensive back whiffed on the tackle. I think we’ll see a lot of that this fall. Maybe even more than we saw it from Fayson.
(Other candidates for this award: Spencer Harris, Josh Ferguson, and Donovonn Young)
In closing – this is worth noting, but I don’t really feel like noting it – of all the candidates for all the awards, 6 of the 8 players are on the offensive side of the ball. And if I stretched it to a list of the top 12 players I saw at camp, 8 or maybe 9 of the 12 would be offensive players. I’m not trying to be biased towards the offense – that’s just what you see from the sidelines when you’re at camp. I think one side of the ball is clearly ahead of the other side right now.
To be fair, one year ago today, the defense was clearly ahead of the offense, and we saw that in the Missouri game. By the end of the season, though, the offense had caught up and probably surpassed the D. So there’s time for growth. Let’s hope we see it.