RANTOUL – Monday's scrimmage was supposed to be about the quarterbacks, but it ended up a showcase for the Illini running backs at Camp Rantoul.
Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson displayed both speed and power as the offense continued to make strides. Young barreled over defensive back Davontay Kwaaning on one play that left Kwaaning noticeably shaken up.
"I liked it," offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said of his backs. "They were downhill. … We've got a pretty good 1-2 punch back there, with Ferguson with his speed and D-Young, he's got speed. Both of them showed toughness inside."
As for the quarterbacks, veteran Nathan Scheelhaase proved his arm has gotten stronger by delivering several outstanding deep balls, including a 93-yard hookup with Ryan Lankford after Lankford beat press coverage by freshman cornerback Darius Mosely.
"Wanted to see if we could air it out," Cubit said. "I thought that worked out pretty well."
Scheelhaase also made the play of the night, sending freshman corner Jaylen Dunlap flying with a punishing block as the lead blocker for Lankford following a double-reverse.
Fellow quarterback Reilly O'Toole had an off night, but Cubit blamed some of that on the situations. Freshman Aaron Bailey showed tremendous touch on a touchdown pass deep down the left sideline to receiver Marchie Murdock. But Bailey also was picked off by Dunlap, although Dunlap snatched the ball from the receiver.
"I thought he played well," Cubit said of Bailey. "Still a little rough around the edges at times. ... But he's coming along."
Extra cautious: Standout linebacker Jonathan Brown sat out both the night scrimmage and the majority of Monday morning's practice as a precaution coming off shoulder surgery.
Although Brown said Sunday his shoulder is back at full strength, coach Tim Beckman doesn't want to take any chances.
"We're just working with Jonathan knowing that he's had his reps and he's been involved in football a long time," Beckman said following practice. "We're just making sure everything is good with the shoulder."
Zepheniah Grimes filled in for Brown, as usual backup Mike Svetina moved into the star hybrid linebacker/safety spot.
Tough situation: Near the end of the morning practice, Beckman threw in some random, situational downs to test both sides of the ball. A third-and-8, a third-and-9 in the two-minute drill before halftime, and a second-and-5 with three minutes left and an eight-point lead. Beckman said he took the idea from a couple of unnamed NFL coaches he huddled with this offseason.
"Only I know what the situation is," Beckman said. "And I call it, so it works the coordinators in making the calls and also works our players in playing the call.
"I think it's a great idea."
Extra points: Cubit said he's still deciding whether to coach from the booth or on the sideline. In the past, he has coached on the sideline with a young team. … Tight end Jon Davis, who continues to battle knee problems, did not participate in the scrimmage, as anticipated. … The place-kicking definitely needs some work based on a handful of misses.