The end is near.
Head coach Tom Allen said Monday that he hopes to have his starting quarterback named sometime this week.
Redshirt sophomore Peyton Ramsey, freshman Michael Penix Jr. and graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins have been entrenched in competition for the lead role since they arrived on campus.
In terms of who “the guy” is, Dawkins was the favorite on paper. He had racked up 2,418 yards passing, 1,582 yards rushing and 35 combined touchdowns in his four years at Arizona. But Dawkins didn’t arrive in Bloomington until mid-summer because of graduation, thus creating challenges with settling into Indiana’s offense. There are also concerns with his arm accuracy, as evident by a 15-to-12 touchdown/interception ratio at Arizona.
Coming off a season-ending injury and having not played since early in 2017, there has been apparent rust for the Oxnard, California native. At an open practice last week Dawkins missed a number of fairly simple throws, including one to a wide-open Peyton Hendershot 15-20 yards downfield during a red zone drill that had touchdown potential.
As for the other competitors, Ramsey is a pretty well-known commodity in IU football circles. After taking over for Richard Lagow midway through last season, he went down with a season ending injury in week nine against Maryland.
The wild card is Penix. He’s been a pleasant surprise since his commitment in December for Tom Allen’s bunch. A one-time Tennessee pledge, the Tampa Bay Tech product chose the Hoosiers over in-state power Florida State. Throughout camp, the left-handed Penix has flashed the most arm-strength of any quarterback on the roster and has also displayed the accuracy that led him to throw 61 touchdowns to just six interceptions in his two years as a high school starter. Penix enrolled early to learn the offense, and certainly has star potential.
“I’ve always said that I think Penix has the potential to be one of the best players in the country,” tight end Austin Dorris said Monday. “I mean he is so explosive with the plays that he makes with his feet and the ability to throw the ball while running. He’s incredible.”
The soft-spoken Penix was diplomatic in his assessment of Indiana’s quarterback decision this past Tuesday, explaining all three players are competing against one another yet they remain supportive.
“We’re all in the quarterback room, it’s a big competition going on that everybody knows about,” Penix said. “But we’re all pushing each other to do our best.”
The Hoosiers have a mock game scheduled for Saturday and Allen has said he wants to make the decision before then. He and the other coaches are meeting this afternoon to discuss the decision.
Dorris in the driver’s seat at tight end
Speaking of competition, quarterback is far from the only unsettled position on Indiana’s roster.
With Ian Thomas off to the NFL, tight end is a major question mark for the Hoosiers this fall. Thomas, though oft-injured last year, was prolific in the passing game and totaled 356 yards and five touchdowns in nine games.
With 12 days until the Hoosiers take on Florida International, Dorris has an opportunity to mold a role at the position. The redshirt junior has appeared in 19 games in two years of action and alongside senior Ryan Watercutter, is the most experienced at tight end. True freshman T.J. Ivy and redshirt freshman Peyton Hendershot are also among possibilities for contribution.
At 6-foot-5 and 256 pounds, Dorris has the prototypical size for a pass-catching tight end. A dual-threat quarterback and tight end in high school, he’s no slouch athletically either. In the pocket he racked up 1,100 yards passing and another 1,250 rushing.
Both offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and Dorris pointed to this summer as the difference maker in the Shadyside, Ohio native’s performance thus far.
“He really worked hard this summer and really improved his speed,” DeBord said. “So he’s playing a lot better that way and he’ll be a guy that plays for us.”
“There’s no reason to fret about what you’ve got to do,” Dorris said regarding offseason workouts. “Yeah it’s hard, that’s how you get better. You work your butt off.”
Nothing official has been announced regarding tight ends, but with just 12 days remaining before the Hoosiers head down to Miami to take on Florida international, expect to see Dorris help lead the mix there.
Tom Allen on player safety
In light of recent events at Maryland where strength and conditioning coach Rick Court and the university parted ways amidst the investigations into redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death during a team workout, player safety has again risen to the forefront of public forums.
In relation to Indiana, it should be noted that IU’s track record over the past few years is not spick and span. Former head coach Kevin Wilson was unceremoniously fired during the 2016 season in wake of player mistreatment allegations.
Wilson’s replacement, Tom Allen, was asked about player safety as it relates to his program and how he balances pushing kids without crossing the line Monday. His response: staunch.
“I think it totally fits with who we are as a program. It totally fits what I believe and why I got into this profession and it’s that I care about kids. I do,” Allen said of balancing pushing his players and demeaning them. “And it’s not just sitting up here and talking ‘cause it sound good. I care about them as a person and as a player. And I want us to win at a high level here at Indiana, but I’m not going to do it in a way that degrades a kid, makes him feel less of a person mentally, physically or whatever.”
Things in College Park may seem far removed from Bloomington. And though 624 miles separate the two campuses, player safety is an issue that engulfs every program in America.
For Hoosier confidants, it should be encouraging that Allen came out that strongly on an offshoot national landscape question he had no time to prepare for. If anything, it demonstrates that Allen truly does live by his team motto, “Love each other.”
“I believe kids respond to you when they know that you believe in them and you love them and when you get to those two points you can push them extremely hard,” Allen said. “And that’s the balance.”
Other news and notes
Offensive lineman Grayson Stover was granted a medical waiver and is no longer with the team. He will continue as a student at IU.