Football tour notebook: Tom Dienhart's fun takes from Illinois


Football tour notebook: Tom Dienhart's fun takes from Illinois

The BTN bus just rolled out of Rantoul, Illinois, and now it’s time to share some fun nuggets I gathered from Illinois’ first fall practice.

[ MORE: 5 things Tom Dienhart learned | See our Illinois practice tweets ]

Senior RB Josh Ferguson told me after practice that he may split out wide more often as the offense deals with the absence of sophomore WR Mikey Dudek, who is likely out at least until midseason recovering from a knee injury suffered in the spring after a boffo debut in 2014.

Tim Beckman told me he’s encouraged by Dudek’s recovery; he was in pads today. Still, the wideout corps may need a boost without Dudek. Ferguson is a great pass catcher.

Junior Rob Bain has an interesting body. In fact, staffers call it “Body by Bain.” The 6-3, 305-pound junior is a workout warrior whose physique resembles an oak barrel. And now, he’s wearing No. 16.

The linebacking corps is set in the middle (senior Mason Monheim) and weak side (junior T.J. Neal). But the strong side “STAR” spot? Sophomore James Crawford and senior Eric Finney are on the spot.

The kicking was problematic last year. Senior Taylor Zalewski is No. 1 for now with junior David Reisner pushing.

[ MORE: Reserve your Big Ten championship game tickets now! ]

Three NFL scouts were on hand: Chargers, Texans and Jaguars

This was Illinois’ first padded practice of camp. There was light hitting. The Illini work out a few miles off campus at “Camp Rantoul” at old Chanute Air Force Base 14 times, its longest stint ever under Tim Beckman. Ex-coach Ron Turner began the tradition when he was coach.

The workouts are open to the public but only a smattering of fans attended on a mostly cloudy, breezy morning.

No player was more physically imposing than senior DE Jihad Ward, a 6-6, 295-pound force who will be an NFL draft pick.

True freshman wideouts Desmond Cain and Sam Mays have turned heads for a corps that already has potential in sophomore Malik Turner and senior Geronimo Allison.

The corner duo of V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence has a chance to be good.

It was great to visit with venerable Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette. Tate is 83-years old and still writing several times a week. Impressive.

Former Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase is the team’s assistant director of football ops. He’d like one day to be an on-field coach.

Another former Illinois QB, Reilly O’Toole, is working with the staff as a G.A.

No assistant is more impressive than OC Bill Cubit, a smart coach who wastes no motion or words.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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