Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Big Ten spring game recap: Illinois
By ESPN.com staff
The spring game recap series ends with Illinois, which wrapped up spring ball Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The defense controlled the first part of the scrimmage before the offense came on strong late behind running backs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford, who combined for 228 rushing yards and three touchdowns. LeShoure, who finished the 2009 season on a strong note, finished spring practice the same way, elevating hopes for Illinois' rushing attack this fall.
Not surprisingly, the quarterbacks took center stage but had mediocre to poor results. Nathan Scheelhaase, the clear front-runner for the starting job, completed 11 of 20 passes for 126 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Jacob Charest, the only candidate with game experience, really struggled with two picks and just two completions on eight pass attempts. True freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee who the coaches say is behind both Scheelhaase and Charest, had the best performance, completing 7 of 8 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown for the Blue team. Whitmer also took four sacks.
Illinois likely won't officially name a starter until August, but if Scheelhaase holds onto the top job, he should have some help on offense with the two running backs and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who capped a strong spring with six receptions for 95 yards in the spring game.
The Illini defense played without several key pieces -- linebacker Martez Wilson, end Clay Nurse, cornerback Miami Thomas -- but received a strong performance from the line. Tackle Glenn Foster ended a very good spring with nine tackles, including three for loss and two sacks.
Illinois also got production from its new "Bandit" position, an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid spot. Michael Buchanan, the team's projected starter at the Bandit, recorded nine tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks, while backup Nate Palmer added two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
Other Illini nuggets:
- The big negative from Saturday was the knee injury to starting offensive tackle Corey Lewis, who tore his ACL and will undergo surgery. Lewis' status for the 2010 season is unknown, and Illinois will have to fill his spot.
- Head coach Ron Zook saw growth from linebacker Aaron Gress this spring, and the senior finished strong with seven tackles, one for loss, and an interception in the spring game.
- Safety Nate Bussey and cornerback Tavon Wilson both recorded interceptions, and linebacker Justin Staples had two tackles for loss, including one sack.
- Former backup quarterback Eddie McGee is playing wide receiver these days, but he saw some time at his old position Saturday. Illinois introduced the "D.C. package" -- McGee is a Washington D.C. native -- and had McGee take the snap with the quarterback lined up as a receiver. Scheelhaase certainly has the athleticism to excel as a receiver, so this could be a dangerous weapon for Illinois this fall.
- Ball security will continue to be stressed after Illinois committed seven turnovers (four interceptions, three lost fumbles) in the spring game. Jenkins, return man Terry Hawthorne and Charest all coughed up the ball.
- Derek Dimke continues to lead the competition at kicker and connected on the only field goal attempt of the spring game, a 44-yarder in the second quarter.