Say you’re a 9th grader. A 140-pound dude who decided football might be fun.
Your coach can make you practice twice on the very first day of practice.
Say you’re a 22-year-old 5th year senior at a Division I school who weighs 220-pounds and has five percent body fat.
Your coach can’t make you practice twice on the first day of practice. Even though you probably want to. And maybe even need to if you’re going to reach your peak performance.
Such is the situation due to the NCAA “acclimation period,” which mandates that football teams essentially build up to two-a-days and full-contact hitting.
That won’t start officially for the Hoosiers until Wednesday, on the sixth day of the session. What we watched Monday came close. As usual, I observed Tyler Replogle. The junior linebacker likes to tackle. In the same way that Hugh likes to wear interesting hats. Which is to say it’s an obsession.
Replogle brought a few guys to the ground, his eyes ablaze with unabashed glee. But other than that, there was mostly a lot of elaborate non-hitting. Everything happens at full speed until somebody presses slow-mo at the exact second before contact is made.
Indiana coach Bill Lynch said that the team’s ready to start tackling. And that the coaching staff is ready to start evaluating players actually playing football. Only then, he said, can you really decide who’s playing well and begin to tweak the depth chart.
Which is not to say that there haven’t been minor changes already. It appears as though Dusty Kiel, the freshman quarterback from Columbus, has already established himself as the third-string quarterback. I’d guess he’ll see most of his reps at that spot, as the staff hopes to redshirt him and therefore won’t bump him up. But he’s clearly made an impression, as has his high school teammate Duwyce Wilson (who has been running with the second group of wide receivers).
Edward Wright-Baker, the other freshman quarterback, has also distinguished himself. He’s not nearly as sharp a passer as Kiel, but is by far the most athletic quarterback in camp. He appears to be moving his way into the No. 4 spot on the depth chart, but interestingly the staff already has a unique playbook for him. We saw him on a few designed quarterback runs today. He’s also more likely to run a bootleg, as he throws well on the run and of course can tuck it and make something happen. Senior linebacker Matt Mayberry singled out Wright-Baker when asked about the impressive freshmen in camp, saying that he had a lot of the same skills as the departed Kellen Lewis.
But Wright-Baker is a beast. He’s at least 30 pounds heavier than Lewis, who struggled at times holding onto the ball and became injury prone. Wright-Baker reminds me of Michael Robinson, the former Penn State quarterback who was league MVP in 2005 and led the Nittany Lions to an Orange Bowl win. Which is why it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wright-Baker possibly used the same way Robinson was early in his career. Robinson didn’t concentrate on QB until his senior year; before that he played running back, split end, slot receiver, returner and some made up positions that Joe Paterno invented just to get him the ball.
Of course Bill Lynch hesitated from mentioning any specific freshmen. Still too early for that. He said he likes how all of them are playing and the staff’s belief that this was a special recruiting class has been proven. But he still wants to redshirt most of them. Better for the program, better for the player.
A few other notes and observations
- Lynch said the heat was a factor today. Usually players are accustomed to it because they’ve worked out in it all summer. But after the mildest July on record, there’s been an adjustment.
- The staff has been able to implement most of the offense, setting a pace that has pleased Lynch. The veteran team retained much of what it learned in the spring, he said, and the staff decided to try to front-load the learning. They’ve pushed to get most of the playbook implemented early and plan to do detail work later in camp. In other years they’ve introduced new concepts and done the detail work on them in quick succession, meaning it took most of the fall before the full playbook was deployed. This is just a different tactic, Lynch said.
- Redshirt sophomore Shawn Major-Winston left camp. The running back from South Bend was replaced by kicker Nick Ford, meaning the Hoosiers now have four kickers in camp. Though Nick Freeland and Charlie Klingensmith have shown vast improvement since the spring, true freshman Mitch Ewald continues to appear to be the favorite to win the job.