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Summer 2018: Signs of Progress

The upcoming summer will be a critical one for Illini football

Northwestern v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

College football is usually pretty far from even the most devoted fan’s mind over the next few months. But what happens in the spring/summer always plays a critical role in how well teams perform in the fall.

Illini fans will have opportunities to see catch a glimpse of the team’s progress (or lack thereof) throughout the remaining portions of the offseason.

Spring Practice

The Illini have 15 practices scheduled between March 5 and April 7. Only the practice on April 7 will be open to the public, and it could reveal some key insights into the roster. Since the Illini will not be hosting the type of formal spring game that some schools hold, we won’t have a chance to see much beyond the physical development of individual players.

Essentially, I want to see that the rising sophomores appear to have added or lost weight as is appropriate for their position. I also hope to see indications that Cam Thomas’ passing abilities have improved. Obviously, it’s much easier to complete passes in drills, but it should still be possible to see some improvement from the only returning QB in the spring.

Training Camp

Last season’s training camp, held in the fields south of FAR in Urbana, offered some revealing insights into what the upcoming season ultimately had in store.

Namely, it showed that the offense was still very much a work in progress, but that freshmen like Ricky Smalling and Mike Epstein were going to play key roles, and that the defense was likely to see plenty of youth as well.

I’m going to be focusing on the incoming freshmen at this upcoming training camp, especially those at the quarterback and linebacker positions, to see if any of them might be ready to contribute immediately. Specifically, who will emerge at the quarterback position and who will likely be headed for a redshirt? Can incoming linebackers like Khalan Tolson and Jacob Hollins react quickly enough to play immediately?

These questions and many more could be answered under the hot August sun in training camp, and I can’t encourage Illini fans strongly enough to attend at least a few training camp sessions.

Recruiting, Recruiting, Recruiting

The job of selling #Littyville to the class of 2019 can’t stop until signing day, and the Illini staff must keep building off of the momentum they earned through the incredible verbal commitments of Marquez Beason and Isaiah Williams. Tweets like these show that the sky really is the limit for this class:

I’m looking for the Illini staff to continue showing love to verbally committed players, as the traditional powerhouses are not going to stop recruiting them either. A few more commitments from difference makers at positions of need would really take this class even further.

Given the depth concerns at linebacker, I especially want to see the Illini staff either land four-star Trinity Catholic linebacker Shammond Cooper this summer, or at least still be in the running for him by the time the season starts.

Recruiting never stops, but I know I’m not alone in thinking that Cory Patterson and Thad Ward are absolutely the right men for the job.