Offensive line coach Darren Hiller knows Indiana wasn’t physical enough in the trenches last season. It showed up in Indiana football’s offensive production, where both rushing offense and passing offense were in the bottom half of the Big Ten.
“I don’t like talking too much about last year,” Hiller said in a press conference Thursday. “But last year I just think we were a little bit soft in our protection.”
That led to schematic changes within the offensive line, all boiling down to improving physicality in order to protect the quarterbacks.
Hiller wasn’t afraid to point out that the offensive line isn’t the most glamorous position on the field.
“You have to embrace the boredom of consistency,” Hiller said. “It’s repetitive and doing things over-and-over. From a year ago to now, I think we’ve made a lot of strides in that regard.”
Being able to maintain that consistency can help one of Indiana’s worst position groups in 2021 bounce back and help the Hoosiers improve for this season. Indiana’s offensive line was 120th in the nation in pressure rate allowed with just under 40%, according to Pro Football Focus.
But the senior leaders on the offensive line understand they need to be better, and they’ve taken it upon themselves to make sure the whole group is stepping forward.
Senior guard Matthew Bedford said when he first arrived at IU, he had a harder time understanding the things Hiller was trying to teach him, and older players were able to help him learn. Now he’s part of that older group, doing the same for the underclassmen.
“That is the aspect of (being) player-led that we lacked last year,” Bedford said. “We don’t like to talk about last year a lot, but it was not there. I feel like now that I’m in this position where I’m able to have more of an impact on the younger guys, I’m able to help get the guys ready that need to get ready for gameday.”
After last season, Bedford said the linemen changed their mindset, really focusing on the idea of ‘big guys lead the way.’ As the first men up, Bedford is hoping being player-led and narrowing in on their physicality can help wash out the sour taste 2021 left.
“This offense goes nowhere without the o-line,” Bedford said. “That’s the same thing across football. Whatever offense you have, o-linemen are the focal point.”
No starting quarterback — yet
With two scrimmages down and two weeks to go until Indiana’s opener against Illinois, head coach Tom Allen still hasn’t named a starting quarterback. Within the team, that should change soon.
Allen said he and the coaching staff will review the tape from Friday’s scrimmage, and along with the scrimmage Aug. 12, should have enough information to name a starter.
Still, don’t expect the Hoosiers to announce that starter before the Week 1 opener, part of Indiana’s plan to keep Illinois off balance. Before the first scrimmage, Allen and offensive coordinator Walt Bell both said they planned to keep the offense under wraps, forcing Illinois to plan for multiple different options.
Allen named three key things they’ve been watching for in the battle between Jack Tuttle and Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak: having great command of the offensive playbook, being able to protect the football and winning the confidence of the locker room.
“That’s what it’s going to come down to, whoever we feel has those three qualities and is able to do that consistently well,” Allen said. “I think that, as you would expect, they’re growing in those areas in understanding what you’re doing. There is no question defensively we do enough things to make that challenging for them at times, which is good.”
Depth chart decisions coming soon
Beyond selecting a starting quarterback, Allen said Friday’s scrimmage will help the coaching staff select a final depth chart as the team heads into Illinois preparation. While guys as far down as the fourth team have been seeing consistent reps, that’s about to start narrowing down.
“Of all the fall camps I’ve been a part of, we’ve probably played more guys and got more reps than we ever have,” Allen said.
The depth chart decision will be made after about 850 snaps in fall camp between scrimmages and practices, Allen said, that give the coaches a better idea of the first and second teams. While some starters are presumed to retain their roles — returning stars such as Tiawan Mullen, Devon Matthews, Jaylin Williams and D.J. Matthews Jr. — other positions are still up for grabs, and the second team has plenty of positions to be settled.
“That will begin to change here,” Allen said. “This scrimmage was targeted as a time to say, ‘OK, we’re going to start setting our depth chart,’ and really say who’s going to be the guys that are going to be playing on gameday.”