Illini training camp quick hits | Day 3

It was the offense’s turn in front of the media lights Saturday ahead of the third day of Illinois football training camp.
Here’s what offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. and his
players had to say, from Illinois beat writer Scott Richey:
Early point of emphasis
Here’s how much Illinois is focusing on the red zone — or “red area” per coach Bret Bielema. The offense didn’t run anything from outside 25 yards in its first two training camp practices. That focus is not without reason. The Illini ranked 93rd nationally in red-zone offense in 2022, converting 80.4 percent of their chances with close numbers of field goals (17) and touchdowns (24).
“We’ve got to be better in the red zone,” offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. said. “Everybody knows that. Our offensive football team obviously understands that was one of the areas of shortcomings last year. ... We’re going to use that for experience and fuel and knowledge to help prepare us for this year. We’re just going to keep chipping away at it. Understanding how we have to execute. The play calls. It’s limited field space. We’ve got to have more touchdowns than field goals down there in the season.”
Study material
Tip Reiman’s offseason efforts, which was geared primarily around improving as a pass catcher, included some unique case studies. The Illinois tight end looked at others at that position who had success. What did they do differently? What did they do better?
One tight end that drew Reiman’s attention was Sam LaPorta. The former Iowa star, who was selected in the second round of the 2023 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, was worth some film study. Especially after LaPorta caught nine passes for 101 yards against a rather impressive Illinois defense last season.
“I used to go against it every day,” Reiman said of that same Illini defense. “He’s doing something I’m not doing. What is that? I went down and broke down every single pass catch he had throughout the entire season. That’s been a really enlightening experience.”
Change in perception
Lunney’s hire ahead of the 2022 season meant a third offensive coordinator in three years for the oldest Illinois players on the roster. Wide receiver Casey Washington was in that group. He played two seasons with Rod Smith running the Illini offense for Lovie Smith and now one each with Tony Peterson and Lunney directing things for Bielema.
Washington has seen a lot heading into his fifth season, which included a brief sojourn through the transfer portal and Wake Forest before changing his mind and returning to Champaign in 2021.
“Time is everything,” Washington said. “Me being here five years, you get a little perspective on life and learn things and see guys come and go. I had coaching changes. To be in the system with Coach Lunney and get to be comfortable with it and the repetition of that is something special. Being able to slow the game down is huge when it comes to running the offense again and getting comfortable in it.”

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