Illini easing into Missouri prep

John Supinie

The same drills and position meetings get old after 2 1/2 weeks.

During Camp Rantoul, the playbook was studied from cover to cover, and drills designed to improve skills at every position have nothing to do with just one game but rather the entire season.

But as No. 20 Illinois headed deeper into the third week at this former U.S. Air Force base, No. 6 Missouri and the football season opener on Aug. 30 (7:30 p.m., ESPN) became more of a topic. While Illinois coach Ron Zook reduced the workload to give a tired roster a chance to regain its stamina, the Illini started slowly working into the Missouri game plan. Things are getting serious.

"We'll look at Missouri later in the week,'' coach Ron Zook said. "My philosophy is that you can spend too much time on it, then you get stale on them. They know how good a football team we're getting ready to play. Preseason camp is for the whole season, not just one game.''

With the Illini ahead of their pace in previous years in camp -- an experienced group already had a solid grasp of the playbook -- the Illini can begin to taper off and benefit from a shorter work day. Practices this week are ending earlier, and the Illini will move back to campus following practice Wednesday.

"We're right on the verge,'' Zook said. "We've pushed them to the limit. I don't want to push them past the limit. They can really see the light at the end of the tunnel. We still have a whole week and a half (until the Missouri game). You have to try to bring their legs back.''

In the meeting rooms where the Illini were mainly watching film of themselves during camp, they are getting a daily dose of Missouri tape, then working briefly on assignments on the practice field.

"They know we're starting to ease them into Missouri,'' said co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch. "In the next day or two, it will be full bore. We've given them a little bit on Missouri each day and doing it out here (on the field).''

Quarterback Juice Williams already looked at Missouri's base coverages on his own. Meanwhile, coaches prepared gameplans for the first few games before the season starts. Identifying the challenges are simple for Disch -- slow Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Daniel threw for 4,306 yards and 33 touchdowns while completing 68.2 percent last season. Maclin set a NCAA record for freshmen with 2,776 all-purpose yards. But the Illini also kept up on news from Missouri's training camp.

"Absolutely you're paying attention,'' Disch said. "It's a big game and the first game. We're about to turn all of our attention to them in a little bit.''

The Illini will practice Thursday and Friday on the grass fields east of Memorial Stadium that were also upgraded during the offseason. The Illini get much of the weekend off, although they do hold a walk through Saturday that simulates preparations for gameday. It's the unofficial end to preseason camp under Zook. The Illini will take Sunday off, then hit the field Monday in the season's first game week.

For Illinois, Missouri is right around the corner.

NOTES: Maclin had five catches for 96 yards in Missouri's scrimmage Saturday, when the Tigers' performance was called "sloppy in a lot of ways.'' Daniel was 10-for-14 for 162 yards and a touchdown.

John Supinie can be reached at