CHAMPAIGN — Nearly everything was in place for a picture-perfect end to University of Illinois football training camp Saturday.
The weather was once again spectacular.
Starting quarterback Chayce Crouch capped off his two-minute drive with a touchdown pass to Mike Dudek. After missing two seasons with a pair of knee surgeries, Dudek had his most active practice to date.
Football alums like quarterback Jeff George and fullback Carey Davis were there to catch the action.
But the mood was spoiled when a pair of injuries to defensive starters marred the otherwise productive day.
Starting linebacker Jake Hansen, whose steady play has impressed coaches, suffered a knee injury and had to be helped off the field. After a brief examination, Hansen needed even more help to reach the trainer’s tent.
Then starting safety Patrick Nelson went down with an arm or shoulder injury. He watched the end of practice with his right arm in a sling.
“We had a couple of injuries today, which is never good,” Illini coach Lovie Smith said. “And those are good football players, so we’ll just have to see how they are.
“But that’s the most action Mike Dudek has gotten in a long time, and you noticed him out there like you would hope when he’s healthy, which he is now.”
Dudek was all smiles after making a number of catches from Crouch, Jeff George Jr. and freshman Cam Thomas. Dudek said he has reached the point where he no longer worries about the knee that had received two ACL tears and subsequent surgeries.
“Honestly, the only time I’m ever thinking about it is when I’m not out here,” he said. “When I’m out here I’m just playing football. I’ve got so many other things to worry about, so when I’m on the field I don’t think about it at all.”
After Hansen left the field with his knee injury, defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson made some quick adjustments.
“We slid Del’Shawn Phillips over,” he said. “He was playing (strong side) and we moved him to (weak side) and brought Julian Jones in at (strong side linebacker).”
And when Nelson was injured, freshman Dawson DeGroot and Stanley Green jumped in and got more playing time.
Smith said although practices now will be closed to the public, he’s inclined to continue practicing on the grass recreation fields that served as home to training camp.
“We may just stay over here a little bit more,” he said. “We’ve been able to rest our practice fields (adjacent to Memorial Stadium). I do know we’ll move back over there once school begins,” which happens on Aug. 28.
Notes: Illinois continues to experiment on the offensive line. The latest new look finds freshman Larry Boyd at guard with Gabe Megginson moving to tackle. If Smith goes with the five players who received the most playing time Saturday, he’d have Christian DiLauro and Megginson at tackles, Nick Allegretti and Boyd at guards and Doug Kramer at center.
Smith said the entire Illini football team will gather to watch the eclipse Monday. “We’ve bought glasses for the entire team,” he said. “I think it’s a special time.” That’s not the only non-football team activity Smith has planned.
Next Saturday night, the team will gather to watch the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight.