The Illini squared off head-to-head at Friday's practice during the Oklahoma drill.
April 2, 2010
By John Lock, Illinois Sports Information
Friday's practice marked the third of the spring season but was the first day of pads, and there was no shortage of excitement about the opportunity to do some hitting.
The Illini started off practice with the Oklahoma drill - a drill several Illini described as "definitely" the most spirited drill they run through.
"It was nice to get back on the field and get those heads ringing a little bit," junior linebacker Russell Ellington said.
During an Oklahoma drill, two Illini line up against each other, with the defender trying to shed a block and tackle a ball carrier - and the whole is team right there watching to see who wins.
"It's just you and one other person, battling it out to see who is the tougher man," Ellington said.
One man doing some winning was senior receiver Jarred Fayson, who drew some "oooh" moments for his hits. A guy used to catching passes, Fayson doesn't shy away from contact when the pads go on.
"You can't wait to get out there and catch balls," Fayson said. "But you also can't wait to get to put the pads on and hit someone."
The excitement goes for players and coaches alike, but the coaches have to worry about players getting too excited. Head coach Ron Zook said junior lineman Corey Lewis left practice with a cut above his eye.
"Tomorrow we have a scrimmage," offensive line coach Joe Gilbert said. "You tell them we want a collision and finish, but don't take anyone down. They want to finish, but we don't want to lose anybody."
Still, the Oklahoma drill provides an opportunity for everyone to see who the roughest and toughest players are, and the players have no problem showing them.
"That's fun. It's an energy thing; it's a toughness thing," Gilbert said of the Oklahoma drill. "You want to see people who will put their face on someone and hit them."
Gilbert noted the practice "started out hot with the Oklahoma drill," something that surprised no one. Ellington said the players were talking about it "all day today."
"It's pretty exciting," Fayson said. "Going through winter conditioning, and doing all those things. Now we finally get to do what we came here to do, and that's to put the pads on."
Asked which he looks forward to more, the first day of practice or the first day of pads, Ellington didn't hesitate to take the pads.
"It gives you more of a game feel," Ellington said. "When you're just tagging off, you're not sure if you're really going to make the play. With pads, you're going to know if you're in position to make tackles.
"Spring football is always fun. You're competing against your teammates - the guys you go to battle with each week - you're going against each other and seeing what everyone has."
After all, it's been a while since these Illini have competed against each other in full pads. The last time in pads was before Illinois' Dec. 5 game vs. Fresno State.
It gave everyone a chance "to get the rust off," as Fayson put it.
It also gives the players a chance to give themselves bragging rights - for themselves and their unit. While Fayson represented the receivers well, Ellington defended his linebacking corps as the toughest hitters in practice.
"I'm a linebacker, so I have to say the linebackers," Ellington said. "The d-line usually wins the battles because they're up close and get to use their hands more. But I have to say the linebackers have the biggest impact."
Before Saturday's scrimmage, the hardest-hitting Illini was still up in the air. Either that, or the hardest-hitter hasn't collided with the shifty Fayson. But neither has anyone else.
"I'll be able to tell who hits the hardest in a couple weeks," Fayson said. "Someone has to hit me first."
Spring Practice Update
Saturday's (4/3) practice will begin at 10 a.m. on the East practice fields and is open to the public. The team will scrimmage inside Memorial Stadium at approximately 11:30 a.m.