CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Today marked the first day of spring practice with full pads on for the Illinois program.
Obviously full pads means more physical contact in practice and one-on-one drills throughout the two-hour session. Illinois outside linebackers coach Kevin Kane mentioned Friday that he'd get a better feel for how well his group is making the transition from a three-point stance defensive end to a two-point stance outside linebacker in Bret Bielema's new defensive scheme.
"I look at football as a giant puzzle," Kane said. "It's about how you put the puzzle together, what piece fits where and it's the same thing on defense. You're part of the puzzle. If you're in the wrong spot, there's a hole in the puzzle and there's somebody running wide open down the middle of the field."
NOTES FROM AVAILABILITY WINDOW OF ILLINI’S 2ND SPRING PRACTICE
DISCLAIMER: This was the first 15-minute session viewed live by Illini Now/Sports Illustrated and we intend to be a participant for Saturday’s window as that will be the first day for the Illini in full pads.
- Once again, Brandon Peters was the first participant in every quarterback positional drill and one thing I noticed was the senior returning starter looked very confident doing the individual position drills asked of new Illinois offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, which is something you'd expect from a sixth-year senior. I would have to assume that the summer work Peters did with former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner is something he can draw off of with this spring practice season. The second in line was redshirt freshman Isaiah Williams and third in line was Matt Robinson. Redshirt freshman Gregory “Deuce” Spann and Coran Taylor got sporadic reps during the 15-minute availability window. Spann struggled noticeably with the details of position drills during our availability window but it's clear he's doing what most coachable young players experience, which is, learning how to play instinctively at this pace because right now he's thinking and then doing.
- The first tight end in drills and eventually when they began working with the quarterbacks was junior Daniel Barker as he got passes from Peters, Luke Ford and Northern Illinois transfer Mike Cerniglia Jr., was next in line with redshirt freshman Tip Reiman. With today being the first day in pads, Ford was immediately impressive in blocking drills as the Georgia transfer was able to showcase his physicality in run packages during the 2020 season.
- The outside wide receivers group was led by Missouri transfer Khmari Thompson, Miami (Fla.) transfer Brian Hightower and that returning duo was followed by sophomore Dalevon Campbell (who Illini wide receiver coach George McDonald said had an impressive catch in team drills Thursday), redshirt freshman walk-on Owen Hickey, walk-on John Bickel and converted kicker Caleb Griffin.
- The inside slot wide receivers group was led by junior Donny Navarro, sophomore Carlos Sandy, redshirt freshman James Frenchie Jr., walk-on Ty Lindenman and redshirt freshman Kyron Cumby.
- The offensive lineman weren't during five-man drills and just one-on-one action during the 15-minute viewing period.
- The only player noticeably absent during the 15-minute window was fifth-year senior Derrick Smith but it is possible he got a bit banged up over the first two days of spring practices. Smith, who played eight games and started four games at safety last season, is still listed as a defensive back on this Illini spring roster but the transfer from Miami (Fla.) also has experience at linebacker.