Illini football notebook: Recapping Monday’s scrimmage, week two, Peters continues to be vocal – The Illinois staff wants to keep their schemes a secret, but after Monday and Tuesday’s practice, both head coach Bret Bielema and his coordinators Tony Petersen and Ryan Walters shared their thoughts from the first game-like simulation of fall training camp.
“There was a lot of really good things out there and there are some things we have to improve,” Bielema said. “[We] came out of it healthy, don’t have anything that is going to be long-term.”
Bielema said during the first week of training camp that he was pleased with how healthy players were and outside of offensive lineman Jordyn Slaughter breaking his left ankle, Illinois has been able to avoid any major injuries in training camp.
While Illinois has been able to stay mostly healthy in the last week, the staff has also gotten a chance to see players like linebackers Jake Hansen and Khalan Tolson in full contact for the first time.
“Today was the first time I saw Jake Hansen in live-action, first time I saw [offensive tackle] Alex Palczewski in live-action, Mike Epstein in live-action,” Bielema said. “Then you have all the transfers in live-action. I hadn’t seen Casey Washington until today, hadn’t seen Khalan Tolson.”
The scrimmage was mostly simulated and focused on early-down situations, but Bielema said that he was pleased with the way his team competed in an environment that included mostly first string vs. first string and second string vs. second string.
Bielema made it sound like they were able to walk away somewhat pleased with how expected starting quarterback Brandon Peters looked in Monday’s scrimmage too.
“Brandon did some very good things and did something that we want to correct,” Bielema said. . . . “I think the big thing for BP is he’s gotta work with the group he is going to be throwing with, so the number one wide receivers, number on tight ends. The more work they get, the more confident he will be in correcting an issue.”
A big focus of Petersen’s offense is controlling the ball and avoiding plays that allow the defense to gain loads of momentum. Petersen admitted that Monday’s scrimmage did feature some of those plays, but he also said there was a good variety of quality plays.
“I thought the scrimmage was good,” Petersen said on Tuesday. “We had some good plays, some bad plays. We always talk about eliminating the really bad plays, the ones that cost you football games. Those are the plays we have to continue to work to cut down whether it’s a turnover by a back, drops by receivers or bad decisions by the quarterback with the football.”
Defensively, Monday’s scrimmage gave Walters an opportunity to see his defense react to game situations for the first time since serious install of the schemes was put into place.
“There’s things we need to clean up,” Walters said. “You are never perfect, really no play is ever perfect. There are things to clean up, but from an execution standpoint I thought it was pretty clean for a first scrimmage of fall camp.”
One major area of weakness for Illinois in the previous five seasons under former head coach Lovie Smith was tackling. Illinois has spent more time tackling this training camp than they did in any of Smith’s, but Monday was the first time that they took players to the ground.
“I thought we tackled really well,” Walters said. “That’s something you always worry about when you aren’t going live.”
Illinois has one more scrimmage next week, and will then begin working towards game prep for the Aug. 28 opener vs. Nebraska in the middle of the week.
Contrasting Weeks of Camp
The first week of Illinois’ training camp was a lot of basic installation and a focus on the fundamentals, but through the first two days of the second week of training camp Bielema has started to see some clarification on the depth chart and he has really noticed leaders taking more control of the team.
“I think the leadership comes up,” he said. “We voted on Illini Council, there was 13 guys voted to that. We haven’t elected captains yet, but you can begin to see guys that when they speak people listen, especially in those moments of adversity.”
Petersen has been pleased to see many of his offensive players start to correct mistakes they were making earlier in training camp.
“Guys are getting better out there whether it’s upfront, quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers everybody gets better with practice,” Petersen said. “We are getting into camp now, a little bit deeper. It’s good to see guys they are making mistakes, but learning from their mistakes.”
On defense, Walters has started to put more time into situational football – more time on third down packages, short yardage plays and red zone defense.
“You kind of put in your early down package in week one,” Walters said. “Now you are starting to get into more situational ball, like third down packages. Then you get to the two-minute, goal line and short yardage. All of your situational categories are put in now. You take a step back to look at what guys are retaining and honing in on to focuses on what you want.”
Peters continues speak more
Illinois’ coaches have publicly stated that they have a desire to get quarterback Brandon Peters more vocal with the offense as a leader, and really just have more of a personality.
After the first day of practice, Bielema praised Peters for his growth in that area, and Petersen did the same last Tuesday. This week, players have said they have seen a more outspoken quarterback.
“I’ve defiantly seen him grow as a leader,” super-senior left tackle Vederian Lowe said. “When Brandon first got here – Brandon is still a quiet guy, still doesn’t’ talk that much – but with him being here as long as he has and me protecting him – you have seen him take more control of the huddle. You see him with a little juice to him, I love to see it.”
Wide receiver Brian Hightower didn’t catch too many balls from Peters last season, most of his catches came from then backup quarterbacks Isaiah Williams and Coran Taylor, who are now playing receiver and safety. However, Hightower has seen a change in Peters from last season.
“Communication, being a great leader, just having that quarterback presence,” Hightower said. “We joke, laugh and play around. But when we get to the field it’s all business with him. It’s benefited him a lot. I think we are all learning to trust each other, but most importantly we have to trust the quarterback first. I trust him and the other guys trust him and that’s the big thing.”