AJ Bush debuts with Illini, QB competition opens


URBANA (WCIA) — For the first time in the Lovie Smith Era, the Illini open training camp with a full-on quarterback competition. AJ Bush and Cam Thomas come into camp as the top two candidates. Thomas is the only one of the five scholarship players with any experience at Illinois. Bush is a grad transfer from Virginia Tech. The 22-year old has only thrown 11 passes in his career.

“A lot of things sold me about Illinois, with Rod Smith coming in, that was the biggest factor honestly,” Bush said about choosing the Illini. “He really helped my decision because of his pedigree, the guys he coached and his past, all that stuff. Him and Rich Rod kinds of invented the RPO so I did it at Virginia Tech so why not learn from the master, you know what I’m saying?”

Thomas played in four games as a freshman, starting two of them. He feels confident in himself that he’s the guy for the job, since he was the only one here for spring ball.

“Being here was so valuable,” Thomas said. “Just having the time with coach and the 1-on-1 time being the only scholarship quarterback here. I feel like it gave me a nice idea of how camp was going to go and what he expects from us.”

Experience or not, this is a brand new offense for all the QBs under first year Illini offensive coordinator Rod Smith.

“Just trying to get as many guys as many reps as possible,” Smith said on his approach to fall camp. “You got so many reps, you got to divvy them up as best as you can, try to keep your pace a little bit. Our pace was way slow today, we got to really speed up. We’re not in shape yet by no means.”

MJ Rivers, Coran Taylor, and Matt Robinson are true freshman. All three of them will see reps with the first team as well before the season opener on Sept. 1. Head coach Lovie Smith says don’t expect a starter to be named before then.

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