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Rantoul2012 XXVIII: First Full Squad Practice August 10, 2012

Yeah, I’m pretty tired.  Mentally drained, really.  I had a blast in Rantoul over four days, and I’m home now.  I’m feeling all of this tremendous pressure to get the practice report up from this morning’s practice (“if I was still in Rantoul it would have been up HOURS ago!”), but I just haven’t had the time.  Got home.  Hugged my wife (she’s just the best for believing in this).  Hung out with my kids.  Saw some family friends.  Ran to Dairy Queen.  Fixed the washing machine. *Hochuli flex*

And now I’m sitting down at 11:51 to type up practice notes.  With heavy eyes.  And a heavy, Rantoul-less heart.  Maybe I should do something that I’m really passionate about to get my blood pumping.  Hey!  I should type up practice notes from the greatest football camp in the world.

One quick thing before I do that: thanks for all of the mailbag questions.  I say this every time, but it’s really humbling that so many people would reach out.  I probably received over 50 questions, and I’m really going to try to get to most of them.  Just not tonight.  Look for “Rantoul XVII: Mailbag Part 22″ coming soon to an internets near you.

+ This was the first full-squad practice.  Which means it was the first chance to see if some of the second string guys were sticking out because they were the best players on their “squad” or because they were really having a great camp.  Since I love doing this in lists, five guys who stuck out:

Dami Ayoola

Yeah, he’s gonna win whatever award I give to the top newcomer.  We need a third tailback, and I believe he’s so very obviously it.  They haven’t gone live yet, so I reserve the right to alter my opinion once they’re tackling for real (instead of just wrapping up and letting go), but he’s clearly the #3 tailback right now.  And probably the top newcomer (I’m not counting TaJarvis Fuller as a “newcomer” because he practiced in the spring).

Nick Immekus

He has to be the favorite to win the placekicker job now.  They ran through three field goals at the beginning of practice.  A 25 yarder, a 30-something yarder, and a 43 yarder.  He nailed them all (just like he did yesterday).  He was also the only kicker to nail them all (just like yesterday).  Combine all of that with his 47 yard field goal to win the spring game, and I’m guessing he’ll be our placekicker on September 1st.  Zalewski probably still has a bigger leg (but a much lower, blockable trajectory), so I could see some combination of maybe Zalewski kicking off and Immekus kicking extra points/field goals.  I’ll put it this way: kickoff is probably yet to be determined.  But placekicking gets more clear by the day.

Devin Church

A fan asked me early in the practice if I thought Devin Church had the ability to contribute right away at receiver.  Thinking back on the drops of the past few days, I said no.  Too big of a learning curve.

So wouldn’t you know that less than 15 minutes later Church made two great catches in an 11 on 11 drill.  That learning curve is still there – he was a high school running back and is just now learning how to run routes – but he used his quickness to gain separation and haul in a few passes today.  Maybe he will be ready this year.

Hugh Thornton

Saw him get the better of Michael Buchanan in a one-on-one drill.  Saw him pull around to the right side and destroy a freshman.  Saw him make a blitzing linebacker look silly.  Sometimes, a position change can spark a player.  Sometimes, a senior steps it up because it’s his final season.  With Hugh, I think we might see both.

Granted, it’s early.  And Hugh, along with the rest of the line, faded quickly as the losses mounted last fall, causing Zook and Petrino to try all kinds of different player rotations and offensive formations, none of which worked.  So if things start going south quickly for this line, dominating freshmen in early August will mean nothing.  But if this line can gel around a leader at left tackle, I’ll remember that it started with him going harder than any lineman in Rantoul.

Houston Bates

A big key for our defense: can Houston Bates seamlessly replace Ian Thomas.  If I had to answer today, I’d say yes.

Side thought: I found myself wondering today if Bates or Henry Dickinson might be able to handle the Leo DE position.  Both probably have enough height – they’d just need to bulk up a bit.  After Michael Buchanan graduates, we’ll only have Darrius Caldwell at Leo (plus a few walkons).  Maybe Bates or Dickinson can rotate with him?  Just a thought.  A wishful one.

Anyway, good ol’ RBOBK was in fine form this camp.  Goes hard all the time (thus the “Rolling Ball Of Butcher Knives” nickname from Vic Koenning).  LSU attempting to grayshirt him was a pretty great thing for us.

+ Chris Beatty told me they have about 80% of the offense in at this point.  It’s always fascinating to me how that works.  They’ll break into drills, and the quarterbacks and receivers will work together, and they’ll go through, say, 20 formations and run a play.  And the instructions the coaches give during these offense-learning sessions are a bit mind blowing.  Here’s a sample, with some made-up words in place of what I heard (which I can’t even remember):

“No, Eddie, when the strong is in hot with a single Hawk heavy, you’re first responsibility is to rip and then settle in the backside gap. You know, like we’re twin eagle and the main cut is a weakside boundary.”

College football is hard.

+ The most asked question in the mailbag emails was to compare a Zook camp to a Beckman camp.  I’ll answer more in depth in a mailbag post, but here I’ll say this.  They’re actually similar in how they’re set up, with walk-throughs and stretching and position drills and such.  But Beckman’s practices seem more, I don’t know, precise.  Like everyone is on the same page.

Yeah, that’s it.  Like everyone is on the same page.  Organized, down to the minute, all of the coaches and grad assistants and volunteers know exactly what’s happening like they all had a run-through before the practice.  And everything seems intentional.  Here’s the drill, here’s why you’re learning this, now execute.  And don’t get me started on actual special teams skill drills instead of Zook’s “go run five kickoffs”.

So yeah, they’re not really similar at all.

+ And now for my favorite moment of the entire week.  I had finished BeardTalk with Hugh Thornton and was fiddling with my phone when I heard Tim Beckman say the words “Ray Eliot speech” as he was being interviewed by John Supinie.  Wait… did he really say “Ray Eliot speech”.  As in, The Proper State of Mind?  Yes, he did.

See, that speech is a big deal to me.  In fact, in early 2010, I dedicated an entire point from The 19 Point Plan For Fixing Illini Football to “build on our history”.  It included a four-step program for our players at the beginning of their season that, well, here, I’ll just cut and paste that part:

The public needs to know. Recruits need to know. Most importantly, our players need to know. If I were in charge, the very moment the freshmen arrive on campus, the very first day, I would put them through the following 4-step program:

Step 1: Listen to the Ray Eliot “Proper State Of Mind” speech

Wait, what? You’ve never heard the Proper State Of Mind speech? Seriously? It’s my ringtone (not really). I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve missed because I waited to answer until after I heard “you’ve got a winner – YOU’VE GOT A WINNER” (seriously, this isn’t true – but it should be).

If you haven’t heard the speech, carve out 27 minutes tonight and listen to the speech. By the time he says the word “courage” in the very first minute, I already have goosebumps. By the time he gets to the Alan Ameche story, I’m ready to throw on some shoulder pads.

I would teach the freshman that this, first and foremost, is what Illinois Football is about. That this is the mindset that is expected from them if they want to play for this historic – yes, historic – program.

So to hear that he sat the team down last night and had them listen to the “Proper State of Mind” part of the speech, well, I’m now the world’s biggest Tim Beckman fan.  He believes history is important – so do I – and that Illinois needs to tap into the history of Red and Dick and Simeon. So do I.  I can’t tell you how excited that makes me.

OK, I’m not tired anymore.  Bring on Western Michigan.

Ed. note: Just because I’m home doesn’t mean my Rantoul coverage stops.  I have hours of internal footage in my brain to review, plus probably eight mailbag posts, plus my camp awards.  You can probably expect Rantoul stuff to drag on for the next two weeks here.  Just probably not eight posts per day.  Stupid job.



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