After moving to Camp Rantoul late Sunday, the Illini hit the practice fields off U.S. Route 45 at 9 a.m. Monday. Illinois worked extensively on special teams fundamentals for the first portion of practice, then moved into individual drills, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and team sections.
The squad ended the morning session with full team work, then freshmen Tyler White and James Crawford added their helmet stripes to the whiteboard as part of the "de-striping" process after which players are no longer considered newcomers to the team.
After an afternoon filled with film study and meetings, the team strapped on full pads for a scrimmage. A strong crowd watched the squad go through about an hour of drills and 7-on-7 work before starting the full scrimmage.
On the first drive, which was a goal-line situation, the No. 1 offense finished a touchdown drive against the No. 2 defense with a nine-yard touchdown run by Josh Ferguson that was keyed by a nice block by Ted Karras. The first-string offense got another shot at things and Donovonn Young surged to the one yard line with a 13-yard run, then finished the work on the next play with a one-yard plunge.
The No. 2 offense found a few highlights, with Reilly O'Toole hitting Devin Church for a 20-yard pass. Dami Ayoola punched in that drive for a score. Then, with the No. 3 offense, Aaron Bailey hit Marchie Murdock on a hitch route along the right sideline. Murdock spun away from a defender and sprinted to the end zone. On the next play, Bailey hit Murdock over the top for a 25-yard touchdown.
The next segment of drives featured the scenario where the offense was in the shadow of its own goal line. Starting on its own three yard line, the No. 1 offense showed some quick-strike capability when Nathan Scheelhaase hit Ryan Lankford with a long pass down the sideline. Lankford grabbed it and accelerated past the cornerback for a 97-yard touchdown. Also in the "coming out" scenarios, Young rattled off a 45-yard scamper and Ferguson had a run of 30-plus yards. Steve Hull caught a slant route and gained more than 30 yards, but safety Taylor Barton punched the ball out and Houston Bates recovered the fumble for the No. 1 defense.
While the offense padded the highlight reel in the first half of the scrimmage, the defense picked it up after "halftime." Both the first and second units came up with three-and-outs and forced a few turnovers.
With the daylight waning, the No. 1 offense recorded one final highlight as Lankford caught a pass inside the five and dove for the end zone in front of a defender, and got the ball just inside the pylon before he hit the ground. The night ended with another newcomer, freshman WR Dionte Taylor, getting "de-striped" to signify he's no longer viewed as a rookie.
The team has a single practice on Tuesday at Camp Rantoul, beginning at 4:15 p.m.