Illini QB guru gets down to work with sophomore Cam Thomas

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Rising sophomore Cam Thomas is the lone scholarship quarterback on the Illinois roster this spring, which means he's getting lots of 1-on-1 time with new offensive coordinator and quarterback molder Rod Smith. Rising sophomore Cam Thomas is the lone scholarship quarterback on the Illinois roster this spring, which means he's getting lots of 1-on-1 time with new offensive coordinator and quarterback molder Rod Smith.

CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith's career resume reads like a highlight reel: Denard Robinson, Pat White, Khalil Tate.

He's used to bringing out the very best from the game's very best. And now this spring, his first with the Illini, his skills will be tested in a new way: getting Big Ten-caliber production out of a group that (as of now) features exactly one scholarship quarterback.

Cam Thomas saw meaningful playing time two games last season: an away game at Purdue and the season finale against Northwestern in Champaign. He enters his second year on campus with one touchdown and five interceptions to his name, but that doesn't mean he's concerning his teammates. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"Cam Thomas is a great quarterback for this offense," senior receiver Mike Dudek said. "I'm happy with what he's done this offseason, stepping up, being a big-time leader for us, which is what you need out of the quarterback. But you don't want them to force it and I feel like Cam's not forcing it ... You know, he can run, he's fast, very smooth runner, and he can throw the ball. He's got a cannon. He can throw the ball really deep."

Dudek also commented on the stark contrast in Smith's offense over previous scheme he's learned at Illinois -- namely that it's much more fast-paced. Such a change could speed up Thomas' development given that running is what he does best at this point in his career.

"Being able to move fast and get the tempo going and be a leader for the offense," Thomas said. "That's a big strength that I have. I know that coming into the season that I have to be more accurate and been working on that every day."

As for how Smith begins the process of turning an inexperienced sophomore into a Robinson, White or Tate, he says it starts without a ball, field or helmet.

"Invite them into your life," said Smith, who himself is a former D-II All-American quarterback. "Let them see you, not just as 'Coach Smith' but see you off the field. See you when you're outside of football. You know, get with them. Go have dinner with them once in a while. Have them up to your office. To me, that's the trust factor. And then once they understand that, that you have the best of heart, you can coach them a little bit harder here, you can push them a little bit more and then understand where it's coming from."

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