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Indiana football 2019 preview: Wide receivers

Kalen DeBoer played wide receiver during his college career at the University of Sioux Falls. That’s certainly clear from his offensive scheme.

DeBoer loves to throw. He loves to put the ball in the hands of those playing the position he once did.

If the 2019 spring game was any indication, that will still be the case with IU. The system wasn’t fully installed, players still weren’t all on the same page, but DeBoer’s offense showed how it can utilize a deep receiving corps.

As he takes the reigns of the offense in Bloomington, DeBoer has the most talented groups of wide receivers he’s worked with in his career.

If DeBoer wants size, he can look to Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale. If he wants speed, Whop Philyor can be used all over the field. A four receiver set? No problem. IU has four receivers capable of starting.

That spring game showed an offense with receivers consistently finding pockets of space creating easy throws for Peyton Ramsey who, at the time, was the only healthy quarterback.

Westbrook is the best of the bunch and was the leading receiver last season with 590 yards. In a Mike DeBord offense that probably underutilized a talented wide receiving group, Westbrook’s numbers don’t display his ability.

Like Simmie Cobbs a year before, Westbrook took advantage of an Ohio State defense — and specifically Kendall Sheffield — that wasn’t able to handle his size.

But Westbrook hasn’t always been able to match the production of a player like Cobbs. He hasn’t been able to build off the momentum from a 995 yard season in 2016.

Westbrook is now a fifth-year player. This is his last shot. This year he will be looked to as the leader. He will be looked to for important catches. DeBoer’s offense is reliant on getting the production his top receiver is capable of.

Across the field from Westbrook is Donovan Hale, another fifth-year guy and IU’s second leading receiver from last season. Unlike Westbrook, Hale’s 500-yard season in 2018 was a breakout, as he heads into 2019 looking to increase his production yet again. Hale is coming off a strong spring where he was named the most outstanding offensive player.

Hale brings a similar skill set to Westbrook with size and strength outside the numbers. The duo will be a safety net on the outside to whomever the quarterbacks ends up being.

While familiar faces roam the outside, IU loses a productive slot receiver in Luke Timian.

In his place is Whop Philyor, IU’s most dynamic receiver. Where Westbrook and Hale bring size, Philyor brings speed. Even with his role was limited as Timian was ahead on the depth chart, Philyor proved to be a player who can make a big play whenever the ball is in his hands and anywhere on the field. He’ll be used to make plays on screens as well as find pockets over the middle to break for big plays.

And then there is Ty Fryfogle, IU’s fourth receiver. Fryfogle became one of the biggest stars of the spring game with his touchdown reception. As the fourth receiver he gives the group something that is theme throughout this IU roster, depth. Fryfogle could be a starter on a number of other teams in the country.

Ty Fryfogle and Purdue’s Tim Cason battle for the ball. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

He’s coming off a sophomore season in which he had just under 400 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Despite still being lower down in the pecking order than Westbrook, Hale and Philyor, Fryfogle is still going to see an expanded role this year. He brings a mix of size at 6-2 as well as some of the dynamic ability of Philyor.

The foursome of Westbrook, Hale, Philyor and Fryfogle figure to give IU one of the better wide receiver rooms in the Big Ten. With DeBoer’s wide receiver friendly scheme, one of these four is almost guaranteed be open every single play. In the spring game DeBoer’s system consistently put his receivers in holes of the defense. Ramsey had no trouble finding an open man. Defenses can’t double-team any of the receivers with almost no drop-off in ability from the top receiver to the fourth receiver.

Even beyond those four, Miles Marshall has breakout potential if the chance presents itself. He has taken a standout spring, where he was named the most improved offensive player, into fall camp. His role won’t be much in a group where he won’t be more than the fifth receiver barring injuries.

With DeBoer’s scheme and a talented wide receiving corps, IU has the chance to have a dangerous passing game. That may be one of the biggest strengths of this team. If IU is going to get to a bowl game, this group has to produce to the ability they are capable of, which hasn’t always what’s played out despite the talent.

DeBoer has led multiple offenses to big jumps in his first year, but not all of those offenses had the same caliber of players to work with right from the start.

Now he has three quarterbacks capable of starting. He has four wide receivers capable of making important impacts. There’s certainly potential and DeBoer’s history show an immediate improvement in offensive production. If that carries over to Bloomington, the passing game won’t take long to return to the numbers of the Kevin Wilson era.

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