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2020 Indiana Football Position Preview: Offensive line

With the Big Ten expected to soon release a new schedule for the 2020 football season, our position preview coverage at The HN rolls on. Up next: we take a look at one of the most reliable position groups in recent years.

Six months ago, Coy Cronk surprised all of Indiana Football Nation (that’s a thing, right?) with the announcement that he would be spending his final year of eligibility in Iowa City. Cronk assumed a crucial leadership role in wake of a season-ending ankle injury last fall, and many looked forward to closely following the comeback tour for an integral contributor. But instead, IU enters this fall without him, Darren Hiller’s group now tasked with filling the void.

As it has for the past handful of seasons, Indiana’s offensive line will once again include some household names, among the best in the Big Ten. The catch? Take a closer glance at the depth chart and there’s a fairly steep drop-off in terms of what the group has already proven on the field, making this one of the most intriguing years in quite a while for a critical group.

Leading the way

Perhaps the greatest compliment an offensive lineman can receive is no compliment at all, and that was just the case for the offense’s Newcomer of The Year, Matthew Bedford. Then a freshman, Bedford was called on out of nowhere to replace Cronk, and emerged as a guy firmly ready for an opportunity, playing an entire season in the Big Ten East without any significant hiccups.

Bedford will return to the left tackle spot, flanked by possibly the largest human on the IU roster, 6-foot-8 Caleb Jones. Jones has been feared in Indiana for years, going all the way back to his successful tenure at Lawrence North. Though he didn’t necessarily make an immediate impact upon arriving in Bloomington, the redshirt junior certainly did a season ago. In fact, Jones hadn’t even started a game before last year, and was forced into the spotlight when the team lost Cronk. Perhaps most importantly, that experience from a season ago included time on the field protecting the blindside of Michael Penix, which is exactly the task Jones will be dealt this fall.

Senior and Columbus, Indiana native Harry Crider could see time at left guard, but more than likely, he’ll be Penix’s center during the 2020 season. He’s another guy who has experience in that role with Indiana’s quarterback, despite only playing just a single game at center last year. Crider is competent, reliable, and just last week was named to the Wuerffel Trophy watch list, an award given annually to college football players creating a positive impact through community service. So on top of it all, he’s great for the locker room.

Following those three, the O-line’s picture becomes a bit less clear. A new and intriguing face who could very well assume a starting guard position is Stanford grad transfer Dylan Powell. Though he missed the 2019 season due to injury, Powell has 19 appearances to his name. If nothing else, the 300-pound interior lineman should bring some valuable veteran leadership experience to Bloomington. Regardless, it should be fun to see how he adjusts to a new system.

At right guard will quite possibly be Mackenzie Nworah, who is more than a decent backup option, if he isn’t a day one starter. The redshirt senior played in eight games with three starts, but that work load will almost certainly go up in 2020. He has the experience, which is half the battle for this position group.

Ready to take the next step

Indiana missed out on Powell’s former roommate at Stanford, transfer Devery Hamilton, and because of that, the depth chart is blurred. IU has a myriad of guys poised to take the next step; it’s just a matter of who will live up to it when the opportunity comes, much in the way Caleb Jones did in 2019.

If we don’t see Crider at center, it’ll be redshirt freshman Mike Katic. Aidan Rafferty and Nick Marozas are two more names mentioned as potential rotation pieces. Carmel native Britt Beery most definitely has the size, playing a physical brand of football as a former defensive lineman. Walk-on Charlie O’Connor may be one of the more underrated guys on Indiana’s roster; he earned snaps in four different games a year ago. 

Newcomers include JuCo transfer Luke Haggard, along with Luke Wiginton, Cameron Knight (the brother of former IU lineman Brandon Knight), Brady Feeney and Randy Holtz, all of whom are expected to redshirt. 

In the end, there’s no shortage of options at Darren Hiller’s disposal. Coy Cronk’s transfer is certainly a blow, and only time will tell as far as how much that will come back to bite Indiana, should we see football played this September. A surprise, much in the same way Matthew Bedford was, might be the icing on the cake, but the hope for 2020 is that the talent at the top can do enough by carrying their own weight.

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