Illini Opt For Walkthrough Over Contact Practice

CHAMPAIGN — There’s an old stereotype of a grizzled football coach who routinely stretches two-hour practices into three hours and who wants his players cracking pads until the sun goes down.

For that coach, there’s no such thing as too much contact.

That stereotype does not apply to University of Illinois head coach Lovie Smith.

Perhaps through his years as a head coach in the NFL, where the grind of four preseason games, 16 regular-season games and postseason teaches patience and pacing, Smith has learned to do what he can to limit practice injuries.

He’ll choose health and fresh legs over wind sprints and punishing scrimmages.

So it was not really a surprise Friday when Smith canceled training camp practice. Instead of the team’s 11th public practice on the grass recreation fields a few blocks east of the football complex, Smith put his team through a closed-door walkthrough on the artificial turf inside Memorial Stadium.

When he’s opted for this change in the past, Smith called it “a mental practice.”

The team intends to resume its regular training camp practice schedule Saturday, which means the squad will be back on the grass fields from 9 to 11 a.m.

Smith has emphasized that training camp is more than just tackling and getting physical. He stresses teaching and he often pulls players aside and demonstrates a technique or reviews an assignment.

“I’ve done a few training camps and we tweak things a little each year,” he said. “We’ll scrimmage about the same as I’ve always done, but I would guess most teams don’t do a lot of scrimmages.

“The goal of training camp is to teach and get your team ready to go. There’s a lot of mental work to be done and for our young players we have to teach them how to be a college football player, a Fighting Illini college football player.”

With the NCAA banning two-a-day practices this season, teams are allowed to extend their preseason preparation time by a week. So Smith has more daily sessions than ever, which affords him the flexibility to make changes like he did on Friday.

The season opens three weeks from Saturdaty – at 11 a.m. Sept. 2 in Memorial Stadium.

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