Welcome to our first spring notebook for what should be a very busy spring. Indiana has endless competition at many positions, and for Tom Allen’s staff, that’s a welcomed aspect of this offseason. The Hoosiers also have many players returning from serious injures and freshmen who are here to challenge their upperclassmen teammates.
Spring football only tells so much, but it’s our first tangible glance at what exactly this roster has. Is it faster and stronger? Is the offense more aggressive? Is the defensive more experienced? Welcome to the first day of the rest of our lives.
Familiar faces in new places
Spring football provides a chance for head coach Tom Allen to experiment with his roster.
Allen talked about players that would be playing in different roles, though none was more intriguing than rising sophomore Reese Taylor.
In the spring, Allen will have Taylor move over to the defensive side of the ball. Taylor will likely be playing cornerback, lacking the size to play elsewhere on defense. Allen said that he wanted to get Taylor on the field however possible, as a result of the playmaking ability that former offensive coordinator Mike DeBord attempted to use last year.
“Reese Taylor will be focusing on defense and he’ll be a return guy for sure but want to be able to get himself on grounded,” Allen said. “He spent a lot of time on offense in the fall and want to get him on defense and see how that plays out. I just want him to feel comfortable and confident in a position. We bounced him around different times in the fall and I think for his future benefit, and his development, I think it will be able to get grounded there. He’ll be excited. That’s what he wants to do. So we’re getting the best players on the field.”
Though defense isn’t the only place where Allen wants Taylor to make plays, as Allen will also use Taylor in the return game. IU returned just 18 total kickoffs last season, consistently opting for a touchback rather than returning the ball.
By trying to put the ball in the hands of Taylor more often, Allen will be looking to create a more explosive return game.
Allen also mentioned Marcelino Ball and Whop Philyor as options who could also factor into the return game, and will get an opportunity this spring. Philyor must get healthy first, as he continues to recover from offseason surgery.
“Reese has a great shot to be able to give us dynamic plays there,” Allen said. “Whop is another guy what will be returning punts, as well, several other guys, we’re going to give him some opportunity for kickoff returns. I think that can be an area where he can really give us some explosion. All of our running backs, we’ll use back there, we’ll use Reese back there for kickoff returns.”
Kalen DeBoer’s offense will have similarities to Mike DeBord’s
Kalen DeBoer hasn’t coached a snap for the Hoosiers yet, but he has quickly become well liked among the offensive players on the team.
“The system that he’s brought in, we all like it,” freshman quarterback Michael Penix said. “It’s real good. It’s kind of similar to last year. It’s just a few things different.”
Penix said learned the new scheme wasn’t a steep learning curve. Redshirt sophomore Peyton Ramsey echoed a similar message.
Ramsey said that verbiage is a big different between the two systems, but that many similar concepts apply to the new system.
“He gives us a little bit more freedom to do certain things as we see it,” Ramsey said.
According to Ramsey, in DeBoer’s system will give the quarterbacks more freedom to make their own calls, as well as create explosive plays. In DeBoer’s offense, explosive plays may not necessarily just be coming from throwing the ball deep, but instead creating space.
While it’s not as if DeBoer will be running the same offense as DeBord, carrying over some elements will be beneficial to the offense in the sense that there isn’t a need to learn a completely new scheme. Learning the terms and concepts of DeBoer’s system appears to be the biggest leap.
“All your verbiage and communication,” Allen said. “There will be some carry over, for sure, there will be somethings we may call it differently, but it will look similar to the outside eye.”
To me, that gives a slight disadvantage to Jack Tuttle in the quarterback competition. Ramsey and Penix will have a clear head start on whatever is carried over from DeBord, even though Penix will be participating in, at most, just 7-on-7s. That won’t be anywhere near the difference between Tuttle winning and losing the job, but it just might help Penix from falling too far behind while he isn’t able to take full team reps.
There will be more players competing for offensive line spots than first thought
IU has three spots on the offensive line written in sharpie. Coy Cronk, Simon Stepaniak and Hunter Littlejohn will start, pending a late addition through the transfer market.
That leaves two spots up for grabs, and there will be a large contingent of players competing for those roles.
In his press conference, Allen mentioned Aidan Rafferty, Caleb Jones, Nick Mazoras, Michael Katic and Matthew Bedford as players who have excelled in the weight room, and thus players he expects to be in the mix for the final spots. Except for Jones, all will have freshman eligibility next season.
Allen specifically mentioned Jones as a player who has excelled in the weight room over the winter, and as a player who he expects to be part of the five starters.
“He’s got the power and development we’re looking for, and the expectation is for him to step up and elevate his game and be a guy we can count on and be one of our starting offensive lineman,” Allen said.
Rafferty, a freshman, has bulked up from 265 to 310 pounds. Early enrollees Katic and Bedford have both been impressive according to both Allen and Director of Athletic Performance David Ballou.
Returning players Harry Crider, DaVondre Love and Mackenzie Nworah will also be in the mix, and probably have a better chance of getting a starting job. Of that group, Crider may be the favorite to take the final spot on the offensive line — as he and Nworah have experience in Big Ten games.
If the younger players give Jones and Crider competition for a starting job, then all the better. The IU coaches have embraced competition as a means to make everyone better.
Is it possible Allen just mentioned a group of players who probably won’t make an impact this year just to give them some attention? Sure. I guess it worked. But Rafferty, Katic and Bedford are players who will likely have starting jobs on this team in years to come — and their development is crucial with more holes to fill before 2020. Cronk, Littlejohn, Stepaniak and Love all graduate after this season.
While the young offensive lineman will likely not be playing much in 2019, if at all, this spring is imperative to their development. They certainly will be needed in years to come.