The quarterback is the most important position on an offense. It’s no secret that Garrick McGee did not have a lot to work with and did even less with it last year as the offensive coordinator. Rod Smith is intriguing mostly because of the offense he worked with in Arizona last season.
Cam Thomas is no Khalil Tate, but a lot of people are hoping there is marked improvement in his passing game. In 2017, the 6-foot-2 freshman completed just 28 of 66 passes (42.4%) for 375 yards, five interceptions and no touchdowns. It wasn’t always pretty:
You go, Joe. @joeferg5 picks Cam Thomas and ends Illinois' drive, and @BadgerFootball looks like they're putting this one away: pic.twitter.com/ILy1iwyihl— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 28, 2017
That being said, he made real exciting strides (pun intended) running the ball. When he made the right reads, he was able to get the next level. He can outrun linebackers once he gets going, and he’s extremely elusive for a guy over 6 feet. He ran for just over 200 yards and a touchdown while averaging 4.5 yards per carry in 2017. When he can find space, forget about it.
Cam Thomas or Cam Newton??? #illini pic.twitter.com/HzOFXKNG8p— Illini Barstool (@BarstoolILL) November 25, 2017
Now, all this should be taken with a grain of salt. Thomas did not start the 2017 season as the starting quarterback for Lovie Smith, and it is likely he will not start the game against Kent State on September 1, either.
AJ Bush, the grad transfer from Virginia Tech, is by all accounts taking the most first team reps thus far during training camp. He looks like he might be doing pretty well throwing the ball, too. Take a look:
Bush to Smalling. pic.twitter.com/RYqHOacdXy— Robert (@ALionEye) August 4, 2018
So that’s pretty encouraging. Still, I think Cam can be a good second option for Lovie. And learning under a former four-star recruit who has a much better arm can’t hurt either. Maybe, just maybe, we can see a little bit of this late in the season (depending on what the team’s record looks like by weeks 7-10):
Cam Thomas hits Caleb Reams for a long touchdown. #Illini pic.twitter.com/nTw5JLODNq— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) April 7, 2018
So, what is a likely stat line for Thomas?
I can see him doing much better than last season in the passing game in particular. Assuming he plays at least four games, I think he can throw for 300-400 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a pair of picks at a 50-55% completion percentage. This is, of course, somewhat dependent on the offensive line play and the general health of the other personnel for Rod Smith’s offense.
Let’s hope he can average right around five yards per carry too — it would be really fun to see him and Bush in the game at the same time.
Only time will tell what Rod Smith has in store for the quarterbacks.
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