Miller, Reinkemeyer take advantage of spring opportunities


Photo courtesy of Rod Smith

New Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith answers questions from the media at his introductory press conference on Jan. 26. Smith’s Arizona team was ranked fifth in points per game (41.3) and 12th in yards per game (489.5).

By Gavin Good, Assistant sports editor

Cam Miller has never attempted a pass at the Division I level.

He has scored a touchdown, though.

A 9-yard run on the sophomore’s first career play from scrimmage as a quarterback was a bright spot in Illinois’ 52-14 loss at Ohio State on Nov. 18.

Now, with the sophomore Cam Thomas as the only scholarship quarterback currently with the team in spring practice, Miller is seeing tons of time with the first team.

Redshirt freshman Charlie Reinkemeyer has even less experience than Miller, having not played a live snap of Division I football at all. But yet, it’s him and Miller who are sharing all the reps at the quarterback spot in practice.

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For two walk-ons, it’s a unique situation.

New offensive coordinator Rod Smith, who held the same job at Arizona last season, is assessing each quarterback without regard for their scholarship status, experience or reputation.

He’s got to find the best fit for his offense, whoever that may be.

When summer arrives and incoming recruits Coran Taylor and MJ Rivers — and potentially a graduate or junior college transfer — come to town it’ll be a much different picture. Smith is assessing the situation day-by-day for now.

“It is what it is, man,” Smith said. “Whether it’s three guys, two guys, one guy, it doesn’t matter. You work with what you have and you try to coach each one up to the best of your abilities, and try to develop them to get them ready to go.”

The time now for Miller and Reinkemeyer can’t be wasted, Smith said. They’re working with talented players, learning a new offense and working to prove they can be an asset to the Illini come fall time.

“Every practice, every snap is so invaluable for these guys with what we’re doing,” Smith said. “We can’t get enough reps, every rep is like gold.”

Miller played his high school ball at Brother Rice in the Chicago Catholic League, while Reinkemeyer spent his days in the city’s suburbs at Lake Forest.

Each day of practice is a chance to make an impression, no matter how big or long it lasts. Every throw is launched with the hope of impressing the coaching staff, or even their fellow players.

Miller knows what he wants from the opportunity this spring.

“(To) be a leader of men,” Miller said. “Gain the respect of my teammates, gain the respect of my coaches, play to the best of my ability and everything else will fall in place.”

For Reinkemeyer, it’s about showing how he can help the Illini become a more competitive team going into next season.

He’s focused on the now, though, because now is when he can best showcase himself as someone who can play a role in this team, regardless of how large or small it ends up being.

“All you can (do) is control what you can control, work hard and make plays and be the best you can be,” Reinkemeyer said. “Let what happens happen. You can’t think too far ahead, you’ve got to focus on each play one play at a time and not worry too much.”

Miller is enjoying getting more attention from coaches during practice, he said, because it helps him learn more about what he can work on technically and mentally.

Reinkemeyer wants to improve his ability to read defenses, especially through the seven-on-seven drills and other live situations in practice. He also wants to improve physically by getting stronger and faster ahead of the season.

Cam Thomas is certainly the favorite to compete for the starting job with Taylor, Rivers and whoever else may arrive when summer camp begins, but Smith is keeping an open mind about who his quarterback is going to be. Everyone is getting looked at.

“The guy that is going to be the quarterback of this football team is the guy that makes the best decisions, that takes care of the football, gets first downs and scores touchdowns,” Smith said. “That’s it, it’s that simple. Whoever is the most productive guy, I don’t care if you’re a freshman, I don’t care if you’re a senior, I don’t care if you have no experience or tons of experience. Whoever the most proficient person is in this offense is going to lead our team.”


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