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CHAMPAIGN — As soon as last season ended, Reggie Corbin turned to the next chapter.

He wasn't going to dwell on his 27 total touches that totaled 105 all-purpose yards. Instead, Corbin, a 5-foot-10 running back, focused on getting bigger, stronger and faster — adding 15 pounds to move up to around the 200-pound mark.

In the process of Corbin putting last season in the rearview mirror, Illinois hired Rod Smith as the team's new offensive coordinator — Corbin's third during his time in Champaign.

The two instantly connected.

“When he first came in, the first thing he said was, ‘This is not all on you. I’ll meet you guys halfway.’ When he said that, I was open, completely open right then and there," Corbin said after Tuesday's training camp. "He didn’t have to say any more."

Halfway is Smith using terminology that the Illini are already familiar with — not putting information overload on the offense.

“Football is universal," Corbin, a redshirt junior, said. "If something is kind of the same, he’d meet us halfway and memorize our signal instead of us having to memorize his. He made it hard on himself instead of making it hard on us."

Through the first four days of Illinois football training camp, Corbin has lined up virtually everywhere on offense. He's played in the slot as a receiver and has taken handoffs from any one of the quarterbacks competing for the starting job.

Smith has coached other players in his stops around college football with a similar skill sets as Corbin.

“There have been different guys that we’ve been able to do this with," Smith said. "It’s a matter of matching what our guys do well and try to put them in position to touch the ball and make plays."

Smith noticed Corbin's make-'em-miss ability in the spring practices, and how he found room against his own defense.

Corbin has experience as a pass-catcher, and has no problem molding around the role the Illini need him to play after a 2-10 season last year.

“I do whatever they tell me to do," Corbin said. "I go out there and run my routes hard. If I get the ball, I run hard. I try to block hard. I try to do everything as hard as I can. That’s how they coach us."

Though Corbin had a diminished role last year after missing the first three games because of injury, he turned heads as a redshirt freshman in 2016. He played in all 12 games with 86 carries for 523 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and had 10 receptions for 112 yards.

Smith didn't care about last season's numbers, all he wanted to see was what was happening in front of him. There were no preconceived notions about the running back's — or anyone else's — ability.

"I didn’t want to do that because I wanted to be fair to everybody and give everybody a fair shot," Smith said. "A guy like Reggie who they say didn’t have as many touches or whatever and all of a sudden he’s got a breath of fresh air, well good for him. Let’s go play."

The plan is to get Corbin the ball in open space, and unleash "one-cut Reggie" on opposing defenses.

"To me, he's an explosive-type kid. He can make you miss in a phone booth type guy," Smith said.

There's a good amount of competition in the backfield with Mike Epstein, Ra'Von Bonner, Corbin and freshman Jakari Norwood playing well in training camp.

“Everyone tries to do everything perfectly," Corbin said. "We pride ourselves on being the smartest running backs. Worldwide it’s a thing that running backs can’t catch, so we try to pride ourselves on that and taking care of the ball — everything."

To buck the notion that running backs can't catch, the group stays after practice every day to catch extra passes. They often debate with one another about who has the best hands on the team. Corbin credits the pride in catching the ball to running backs coach Thad Ward.

Corbin said he's never had a relationship with a coach like the ones he has with Ward and Smith.

It comes back to Smith's flexibility and meeting his players in the middle, or somewhere in the middle.

"It fits our personnel really well," Corbin said of Smith and his offense. "It’s kind of like he was the one for us, which is great."

NOTES: The receiving group continues to play well. On Tuesday, Sam Mays had a nice grab over defensive back Nate Hobbs. ... Freshman receiver Edwin Carter nearly hauled in a deep pass down the sideline, only to be ruled out of bounds. It came after he caught a pass from quarterback AJ Bush earlier in practice that was threaded between a pair of defenders. ... Junior defensive back Nolan Bernat had a one-handed interception. ... The Illini have moved Wednesday's practice to a morning practice from 9-11 a.m. It was previously scheduled from 3-5 p.m. ... Saturday's practice will be closed to the public and media and will be a night practice. ... Defensive back Nick Walker did not practice, but was back on the sidelines Tuesday after being carted off the field on Monday. 

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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