Camp Report #18: `Birds Battling for Position
Jason Horton
Jason Horton

Aug. 15, 2007

NORMAL, Ill. - While most of the Illinois State campus is moving into the dorms and getting adjusted to the first days of college life, the Redbird football team has been settled in for over a week and was entrenched in some spirited competition for starting positions during Wednesday's morning practice in shells under the lights at Hancock Stadium.

The Redbirds began their 24, five-minute period practice in light rain, but were back in the sunlight by the time the session finished.

"We are getting better, as there is some pretty good competition going on for who is going to be the top-two, top-four and top-six receivers," said head coach Denver Johnson. "That's a pretty hot topic right now. We also have a pretty good battle going on at tailback, as well as in our field goal kicking. But, I think we are going to be fine. We are a long way from being finished, but I think we are going to be okay.

"We had a spirited practice, and had a good two-minute drill at the end and showed some improvement," said Johnson. "But we are still a long way from being efficient at it, but it was still good to see some improvement. I was encouraged. It was a pretty routine practice, but a good one."

The Redbirds began practice working on special teams, as the kickers continued their battle for the starting spot. Tyler Funk nailed 4-of-6 kicks from just over 45 yards, while Kevin Mazur hit 3-of-6. Luke Drone, Preston Earl and Tom Nelson served as the holders.

Special teams was revisited during periods five through seven, as all three kickers took punts. In another key area that is still up for grabs, Kevett Mickle, Jake Rourke and Parrish Fisher all served as the punt returner during the drill.

After the quarterbacks worked with the running backs on handoffs, the signal callers joined the receivers to perfect timing and route running. They then rejoined the rest of the offense to take on the defense in the 7-on-7 drill during periods 14 through 17. Drone showed why he was a first-team All-Gateway Football Conference selection in 2006, as he was a perfect 8-for-8 passing. He also found a target in Rourke, who caught four passes from Drone and led all receivers in catches. Earl also showed improvement as he went 5-for-6, while Drew Kiel was 1-for-2 and Sam Donatucci was 2-for-3.

The defense enacted some revenge during the team period, as Drone was picked off by Nelson after his pass was tipped by Kye Stewart during a third-and-8 situation. However, Drone hit Fisher four times during the drill, while Earl connected with Cortes Rice and Mickle once apiece. During the third-and-4 scenario, Kyle Siskowic intercepted a pass through the middle by Earl, while Brandon Wilson recorded a sack and Andrew Paschal and Tommie Westbrook added pass breakups.

The `Birds return to practice again Wednesday, as they finish their final day of double practices at 7:30 p.m.

NOTES:
Nick Williams celebrated his 22nd birthday Wednesday.
Kevin Brockway, Brent Holtz and Antwan Ryles did not practice during Wednesday's morning session.
• Members of the Illinois State facilities crew ran tests on the newly installed video board during the pre-practice stretch, with a close up given to head coach Denver Johnson.

Roberta from Chicago wanted to ask Mark Whitaker: " Hey Mark, I know you started your collegiate career at Drake. Are you excited to be opening your senior season against the Bulldogs?"

Mark said: "Yeah, it's an exciting feeling. I got to play them two years ago after I transferred, with my role mainly being on special teams with a little bit of time at linebacker. Going into my senior year, there are about five players that I played with my freshman year that are still on the team, and I plan on playing a bigger role this time around, so it should be an exciting game matching up against some old friends."

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