Illinois Gridders Earn Another Ranking
NATIONAL RANKINGS - The University of Illinois football team earned yet another ranking today as the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll ranked the gridders 21st. The ranking marks the first time the Illini have been picked in the top-25 since prior to the 1995 season. The Illini are one of seven Big Ten teams to earn recognition, including Michigan at No. 4, Wisconsin at No. 5, Purdue at No. 13, Ohio State at No. 15, Penn State at No. 17 and Michigan State follows the Illini at No. 22.
PRACTICE NOTES - Today's practices saw not only hot temperatures, but heated action on the field as well as the Illini completed the first two sessions of preseason practice. In shells and shorts, the squad worked on individual and team drills that included 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods. In an individual group pass drill, quarterback Kurt Kittner hit receivers Greg Lewis and Eric McGoey from the 35-yard line for a pair of 65-yard touchdown passes. Back-up QB Dustin Ward also connected with Jamaal Clark for a TD in the same drill. During 7-on-7 work, Kittner went 8-for-11 for 95 yards, while Ward was 9-for-12 for 183 yards and two touchdowns to Walter Young (66 yards) and Rocky Harvey (66 yards).
"(Today's practices) went really well. We had good attitudes, good focus and good execution. We are definitely in great shape," head coach Ron Turner said "Every team in the country has the same attitude on the first day of practice. It's those that can sustain it that will win. We have a lot of guys who like to compete. I liked everything that I saw today - the intensity and the leadership."
POSITION SPOTLIGHT: DEFENSIVE BACKS - Some critics say the shortfall of this season's team may lie on the defensive side of the ball. Turner says different.
"After today's practices, I would say the defense is a little further along than the offense," Turner commented. "I have said before that the defense is the fastest, quickest and most athletic of any since I've been here."
As for the defensive backs, both Turner and Green are impressed with what was displayed during the first two sessions of Camp Rantoul. During many team drills, the defensive backs contained air-bound offense, including an interception and broken up pass by sophomore Eugene Wilson.
"It was a great first day," defensive backs coach Chris Green said. "We seemed very confident with Bobby (Jackson) and Muhammad (Abdullah) in the backfield today along with Trayvon Waller and Eugene at corner. We seemed crisp and had very few mental errors."
INJURY REPORT - After suffering a broken leg during spring practice, senior offensive guard Ray Redziniak dressed for his first practice since March. Redziniak took part in the morning session only working on individual and group drills, while steering clear of live work.
"He's doing well. He's one of our best, most experienced players," Turner said. "He is a leader on the squad and he wants to be out there, but we have to rely on what the doctors permit."
USA TODAY/ESPN PRESEASON TOP 25 POLL
Also receiving votes: Colorado 164, Mississippi State 116, UCLA 69, Arkansas 55, Minnesota 54, Oregon 52, Georgia Tech 48, East Carolina 41, Marshall 38, Utah 32, Syracuse 31, Brigham Young 28, Virginia 24, Colorado State 21, Notre Dame 14, Stanford 12, Oregon State 7, Vanderbilt 7, Boston College 3, San Diego State 3, Arizona 2, Fresno State 2, Hawaii 2, Arizona State 1, Duke 1, Idaho 1, Toledo 1.
THE PRESEASON TOP 25
Others receiving votes: Texas A&M 139, UCLA 115, East Carolina 75, Oregon 63, Auburn 36, Colorado St. 35, Mississippi St. 34, Utah 33, Notre Dame 32, Virginia 26, Marshall 23, Arkansas 22, Georgia Tech 10, LSU 10, Syracuse 9, BYU 7, Minnesota 5, Boston College 3, Kentucky 3, Texas Tech 3, Toledo 3, Stanford 2, Arizona St. 1, Oregon St. 1.