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Cam Thomas takes big steps forward in spring ball

The wheels are starting to churn for the rising sophomore quarterback.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois Football team’s run offense might have been the highlight of its spring game, but rising sophomore quarterback Cam Thomas also had a chance to show off his improved arm.

Early on in the scrimmage, senior wide receiver Caleb Reams found himself streaking past the defensive backs after lining up in the slot. Thomas finished his progression, got his feet set, and dropped a perfect pass to Reams, all the while, hitting him perfectly in stride.

The 71-yard touchdown pass could have easily been overthrown by Thomas as the wind was blowing heavily from his back, but he didn’t allow it to distort his throw.

Thomas said big plays like these are signs of the new movement that is flowing into Champaign.

“It shows that Littyville has got something special,” Thomas said.

But, for Thomas personally, it shows the improvement he has made this spring under center.

“I feel like I’m seeing the defense way better than I was last season,” Thomas said. “Just being able to do that, I can anticipate my throws better.”

Thomas, the only scholarship quarterback on the roster this spring, attributes his improvement to getting 1-on-1 time with new offensive coordinator Rod Smith, something Thomas said he greatly appreciates.

Thomas struggled throwing the ball during his freshman season. He appeared in four games, completing 28 out of his 66 pass attempts for 375 yards, zero touchdowns and five interceptions.

This spring has been a big step for Thomas, said Smith. The first-year OC said that his biggest step was just learning football.

“He’s made progress. I’m never going to be happy with the quarterback’s progress because I think you can always be another level,” Smith said. “I’m going to hold him to a higher standard above anybody else, but I thought he did some good things.

“He showed some glimpses, but there is still some development that needs to happen.”

Despite his needed development passing the ball, Thomas has demonstrated his ability to be a dual-threat quarterback with his speed and athleticism.

In his four games last season, the Chicago Heights quarterback put the ball on the ground 52 total times for 233 yards and a touchdown.

Sophomore running back Reggie Corbin said this aspect of Thomas’ game is a huge bonus for the offense.

“Cam being a dual-threat takes it from us playing with 10 (players on the field) to 11 (players on the field),” Corbin said. “He can make plays... He can do everything. He’s so smart, he puts us in a great position to make good plays.”

While everyone wants to focus on Thomas’ on-field performance, Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said that Thomas has had as big a role off the field, emerging as one of the leaders on the team this spring.

This type of role is something that is new for Thomas at this level of play.

“Being one of the younger guys in a leadership role, sometimes it’s harder to tell the older guys what to do and step into that position,” Thomas said. “But my teammates have definitely helped me out where I needed it.”

With spring football now over, the real offseason begins for Thomas. The next step that Thomas wants to take this is putting on more weight. Currently at 195 pounds, Thomas said he wants to make the jump to 200 or 205 pounds.

As long as Thomas continues to get the practice he needs, then the progress will show, Lovie Smith said.

“Part of his development is getting as many reps as possible. I’ve got him that. Cam has been in every situation, he’s been under, leading our team throughout the spring. He made some good throws today, made some throws we would like to have back.

“We’re not game ready or anything like that, but we’re heading in the right direction.”