Illinois Football: Game notes from the Illini spring game

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 02: The Illinois Fighting Illini helmet on the field after a win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Memorial Stadium on November 02, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 02: The Illinois Fighting Illini helmet on the field after a win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Memorial Stadium on November 02, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

It’s the middle of April but we still got to see some form of Illinois football, and that is exciting.

The Illini had their annual spring game on Thursday night. It was broadcast on the Big Ten Network, and honestly, it felt like it was the fall again. It got the ole football juices flowing. I didn’t want it to end.

With that being said, the Illinois team we have seen the past couple of seasons looked a little different on Thursday night. It was mainly who was behind center. Tommy DeVito was the starting quarterback for the Illini, and it was exciting to see what he could do.

Illinois football finally has a good quarterback in Tommy DeVito.

It didn’t take took long for me to be wowed by DeVito at quarterback. He was flinging the ball all of the field, and besides for the first few passes, he was pretty accurate.

DeVito has a cannon for an arm. He can move the ball down the field quickly. As far as arm strength, the biggest thing I worry about is his touch dumping the ball off in the flat. He has one speed, and that is the fastball.

I was also impressed with DeVito’s ability to throw the ball on the run. I think this is where he shines the brightest. He had a few great passes throwing against his body, and his ability to have accuracy on the move is going to be a huge boost for the Illinois offense.

There were a few wide receivers that stuck out on Thursday night. Obviously, Isaiah Williams is going to be a huge part of the Illini offense come the fall. He was the main target for DeVito, and that chemistry is already there between the two. They connected multiple times for touchdowns, which was extremely exciting.

The speed of Williams really stood out. He is clearly the quickest player on the team. He showed that by outrunning our lead blocking running back, and burning defensive backs for touchdowns. The only concerns I have for Williams moving forward are his hands and lower body. Williams dropped a couple of passes and had a fumble on Thursday night. I also worry that his lower body isn’t strong enough yet. When he gets hit, it’s like he is getting hit with a cannonball. But there is no doubt he is a superstar.

Illinois’ wide receiving corps intrigues me this season. Williams is definitely the No. 1 wide receiver on the team, but I think there is a load of talent behind him.

I was impressed with Miles Scott, who was a walk-on last season and took a redshirt. He got snaps with the starters on Thursday night. There is a legit shot Pat Bryant becomes one of the best wide receivers on the team this season. He is clearly, physically, the biggest wide receiver threat on the team right now. I think he has a chance to be really special.

The fact we didn’t see our two freshmen and Casey Washington out there is something to keep an eye on too. Shawn Miller and Eian Pugh are two freshmen who will have an impact on the Illinois football team early on in their careers. They are both early enrollees as well. The depth at wide receiver will be insane this season, and we have a quarterback who can get them the ball.

We got a better picture of what the offensive line will look like to start 2022. Bret Bielema had his starting offensive line feature the following: LT Isaiah Adams, LG Jordyn Slaughter, C Alex Pihlstrom, RG Zy Crisler, and RT Alex Palczewski.

Honestly, the offensive line looked great on Thursday night. I was impressed with all of them. It is nice to see Slaughter out there again after missing a year with an injury. Crisler and Adams are new to the offensive line, but they looked great. Adams and Slaughter had a play where they both pulled and ended up blocking on the right side for our running back. It was amazing how quick both players were getting upfield.

Just a few more notes. Illinois shouldn’t miss a beat after losing Blakes Hayes as our punter. Hugh Robertson had a punt inside the five-yard line that spun sideways. He’s going to be another great Aussie punter.

Freshman running back Jordan Anderson could work his way into snaps this season. Chase Brown and Josh McCray are clearly the one-two punch, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Anderson compete with Chase Hayden and Reggie Love for the No. 3 running back job. Anderson was impressive.

I loved the way our starting defensive backs looked. They have a different feel about them this season. Devon Witherspoon and Tahveon Nicholson both have a chance to be special players. They are going to really shine in the Illinois secondary this season.

Lastly, Illinois’ defensive line has a ton of talent. Johnny Newton is going to be an All-Big Ten caliber nose tackle. Having Calvin Avery backing him up is impressive depth as well. That one-two punch gives the Illini so much stability on the defensive line.

We are just about four months away from the first official game of the 2022 campaign. Thursday night’s spring game gave Illini fans a little glimpse into what we can expect this fall. Let’s just say, I am excited for football.

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