Illini training camp quick hits | Day 2

Aug 4, 2023
Training camp continued Friday for Illinois football. Defensive coordinator (and new dad) Aaron Henry and three of his
players were up on the media availability list. Here’s some of what they had to say, from Illinois beat writer Scott Richey:
Fluid depth chart
Unless Illinois third-year coach Bret Bielema has changed his mind, the Illini won’t publicly release a depth chart at any point during the 2023 season.
Not that one doesn’t exist.
Players know where they stand.
Mostly because it’s one of the aspects first-year defensive coordinator Aaron Henry discussed with the Illinois defense during its first unit meeting on Thursday when August training camp opened.
“This is how the depth chart is starting; you dictate whether it ends like this by the end of fall camp,” Henry said he told his players. “Just being transparent with these guys. All of them want to play in the NFL. When they get to that level, it’s a straight business. Obviously, we want to make sure we have great relationships with them. Obviously, you’re mindful of the transfer portal, right?
“But there’s a way you handle them knowing you have relationships with them allowing them to understand we are tracking every practice. We are tracking your production. We are tracking your mental errors. We are tracking all of that. When this thing is over and done with and we get to the season, who is going to put us in the best position to have success on the field?”
Next man up
Opportunity opened up at linebacker when Isaac Darkangelo exhausted his eligibility at the conclusion of the 2022 season. More came when CJ Hart opted to transfer to Oregon State (and experience the downfall of the Pac-12 firsthand) after spring practices concluded in Champaign. Waiting in the wings, primed to take over, are Dylan Rosiek and Kenenna Odeluga. They’re no longer waiting in the wings.
“They’ve handled it well because both of those guys practice extremely well,” veteran linebacker Tarique Barnes said. “They’ve always been next in line. It’s not like they weren’t prepared. They’ve always been next. If anything had happened to anybody, they were going to be the ones to go out there and play. Them stepping into the role of being in a starting position or being able to be the ones to down the linebacker position, they’re well prepared. I think they’ll do great with it.”
Filling bigger role
Losing four starting defensive backs to the NFL — Devon Witherspoon, Sydney Brown, Quan Martin and Kendall Smith are all in pro training camps — created a wide-open competition this spring to fill those holes. A competition that’s run into training camp after the summer additions of transfers Demetrius Hill, Clayton Bush and Prince Ford. Sophomore Xavier Scott has a leg up. He got on the field in 11 games in 2022 as a true freshman and has a better grasp of his role with his second training camp underway.
“At first, I felt like I was just there at camp last year, but now I’m playing a big role this year,” said Scott, who could play cornerback or nickelback for the Illini. “I’m becoming one of the leaders on the defense. It’s definitely been a big step for me, but there’s never been too much pressure. ... I’m just feeling more comfortable out there and being more vocal as a leader guy.”

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