CHAMPAIGN — Martin O’Donnell, the former All-American offensive lineman for the Illini, got almost weak-kneed recalling the blistering heat of his final training camp 10 years ago.
“We were up at Rantoul and I remember one day the heat index was like 118,” he said Saturday, wondering if the current Illini football players know how lucky they are. “This weather here is ridiculous.”
Illinois has enjoyed two straight weeks of glorious training camp weather the likes of which we may never see again. Saturday morning temperatures were in the low 70s and a cool breeze drifted over the grass practice field where a nice crowd had gathered.
After canceling practice on Friday, and with the conditions nearly perfect Saturday, coach Lovie Smith decided to put his team through its most lively scrimmage to date.
The Illini ran 113 plays as Smith tries to refine exactly who will be a part of the offensive and defensive rotations. Less than three weeks remain before the season begins against Ball State on Sept. 2 at Memorial Stadium.
“We’ve been working for two weeks up to this point and we wanted a chance to put the guys in more of a game situation and we were able to do that today,” Smith said.
“Guys should know what to do now. We want a good evaluation of the players to see where we are. We still have a little time before it’s game time, but we’re getting closer.
“The team needs to start taking shape of exactly what we’re going to be.”
Under close scrutiny are a number of true freshmen who appear to have played their way onto the depth chart.
“We know a lot more about our young players, where they will play and what kind of play we’re going to get from them,” Smith said.
“Think about our freshmen. It’s their first camp and more and more some of them are getting a bigger role with what we’re doing.''