Amidst Nick Westbrook’s flashy red suit and Reakwon Jones’ unmistakable dreadlock hair tied up, Coy Cronk might not have necessarily stood out at 2019 Big Ten Media Day in Chicago.
It was fitting as he enters his final year with the Hoosiers. He’s never had to stand out.
“I’ve always said it takes a special person to play on the offensive line,” Cronk said. “It’s the only position on the field where you have five people working in unison to accomplish a goal for someone else to take the credit for.”
For three years, Cronk has been that special type of person. As a freshman, Cronk became the starter at left tackle. Since then, he’s started 36 games in that spot, missing one start with an injury.
Now Cronk is a senior. He’s spent three years opening up holes for running backs and keeping quarterbacks on their feet. Cronk said there’s no better feeling than watching Stevie Scott bust loose for a 60-yard touchdown. The senior left tackle trails behind Scott, pumping his fist as the running back puts six on the scoreboard.
He’s been that physical presence blocking some of the top pass rushers in the Big Ten including 2019 second overall pick Nick Bosa. But he’s done that on an offensive line where he’s been shadowed by players going onto the NFL such as Dan Feeney, Brandon Knight and Wes Martin.
“The standard was there when I walked into the room,” he said. “The expectation is that I will uphold it. At the end of the day I’ve got to be able to look myself in the eyes and be like, ‘hey I did the best I could do.’ It’s not only what I can do, it’s what I can do to help the other four offensive linemen out.”
As a senior, it’s Cronk’s turn to take on the role Feeney, Knight and Martin all held. He’ll still be protecting the blindside of whoever ends up being the quarterback. But he’s also now a leader.
Cronk has been there to answer questions, even if he thinks he sometimes leaves the younger linemen more confused than before. He said he wants to help them focus on each day at a time, keeping the focus on winning each week and pushing away the negativity that has come with failing to beat Purdue and failing to reach a bowl game. He’s teaching them about the meaning of the Old Oaken Bucket, a game with elevated importance for Cronk being from Lafayette.
From there, comes the rest of Cronk’s unit. Now as a junior, Harry Crider is going to step into the spot left by Martin at left guard. He’ll be next to Cronk all season. Offensive line coach Darren Hiller said Crider has showed him consistency throughout fall camp. Crider’s playing time decreased as a sophomore compared to his freshman year, but for the first time in his career, Crider has a full-time job waiting for him.
Caleb Jones and his 6’8″ 360-pound frame is set to become IU’s newest right tackle. Jones certainly has the size to man that position, but agility has been his focus in camp.
“He’s still a work in progress in terms of getting better, but the offseason has been big for Caleb,” Hiller said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think from his first year to his second, I think he really upped his training level in the offseason and it’s paying off for him right now.”
Matthew Bedford has impressed in fall camp too. While he won’t start right away, Cronk said Bedford is more talented than he was as a freshman.
While he may be the most experienced, Coy Cronk isn’t the only veteran of the group. Hunter Littlejohn will return as the center after losing his job to transfer Nick Linder last season. Simon Stepaniak will return as the right guard, playing with the same edge he had all last season — even if it did earn him some negative attention in Ann Arbor. Both players are in their fifth and final year in Bloomington.
The offensive line may not have the same depth as other positions on one of the deepest teams IU has had in years. For that reason, Cronk has taken snaps at guard during fall camp.
“We got to move a couple of guys around today for some different situations and still did well, so that’s really a good thing to see,” Hiller said Tuesday. “Guys are able to play different positions, learn the offense well and we’re feeling really good about where we are right now.”
Cronk knows the standard he has to uphold as a player and as a leader. He wants to be celebrating as he runs down the field after his teammates, especially at Ross-Ade Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend — not only because it’s Purdue, but also because it’s his last shot to get a win over the Boilers in his hometown of Lafayette.
“I feel like when I walked in there my sophomore year it felt like I knew half of the stadium, those are my people,” he said. “There’s always a little bit more on the line, and it’s always real personal for me…I’ve got a lot to prove in that game.”
Whether or not he wants it, Cronk is going to receive the spotlight this year as he becomes the one who the rest of the offensive line looks to. He’s going to be an integral piece of Kalen DeBoer’s offense despite likely never touching the football. He doesn’t need the credit, nor does he want it. He just wants to watch the tape, and watch him lay out an opposing pass rusher.
He wants to live up to the legacy the NFL-bound Hoosier offensive lineman of the past have created — it’s a group Cronk could be joining soon.