CHAMPAIGN - The absence of a thin, red mesh jersey turned up the intensity on Saturday's University of Illinois spring football scrimmage at Memorial Stadium.
For the first time all spring, the Illini quarterbacks shed their red jerseys for a day, making them fair targets for live tackling. And there were several times - more than coach Ron Zook would have liked - that the defense found its target.
The good news: None of the three Illini quarterbacks were injured. But the anxiety of the exercise means Zook may have the red jerseys back on his quarterbacks for the rest of the spring.
"We'll talk about that," said Zook, who admitted a high level of nervousness. "There's an outside chance we could do it another time. I was blowing the whistle when I saw (defenders) coming."
But not quickly enough at times. Once Jacob Charest was dragged down by his face mask.
Another time Charest was flattened by defensive lineman Akeem Spence. Chandler Whitmer was clobbered by an arm bar from linebacker Nate Bussey. And Michael Buchanan knocked Charest on his back with a runaway pass rush.
Escaping most of the hard hits was redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who continues to work with the first-team offense. As far as he's concerned, the elusive Scheelhaase hopes the red shirts are put away for good.
"It was fun, man," Scheelhaase beamed. "This is football. It's been awhile since it's been real for me. I did it a little in Rantoul (last August) but it's been since high school that I've really played in a live game situation and it was fun getting out there."
It didn't take Scheelhaase long to show the defense his quickness and moves. He raced 44 yards on his first carry, a play-action keeper.
Then he handed it to running back Mikel Leshoure, who covered 66 yards to the 4-yard line. Two plays later, he rumbled into the end zone.
Scheelhaase's best drive came a bit later when he completed all five of his passes for 64 yards in a touchdown drive that covered 70 yards. The TD came when he flipped a short pass to tight end-fullback Zach Becker, who rumbled 23 yards to the end zone.
Scheelhaase also had the day's only interception, that coming late during a two-minute drive.
Charest had the day's best pass, a 52-yard strike into the wind that found A.J. Jenkins in stride.
"The thing that was so much better today was the effort and intensity," Zook said.
Saturday was the seventh practice of the spring. Drills will continue until the annual spring game at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 24 in Memorial Stadium.