Kevin Wilson’s first rule for quarterbacks is don’t turn the ball over. The man he wants under center is not always the option with the most talent potential or upside, but the guy who moves the offense efficiently and consistently and doesn’t give the ball away or make other obvious mistakes.
Tre Roberson was that guy this preseason camp, Wilson said, and that’s why he will be Indiana’s starting quarterback on Saturday against Indiana State.
“He just consistently made the fewest mistakes,” Wilson said. “This definitely gives us a little bit of a threat with the quarterback run game. He made the fewest mistakes with the ball. He got to where he was clicking in the passing game at a reasonably high level. He’s also probably, of those guys, a little bit more comfortable being here longer because he’s more of a natural leader. But he consistently, consistently, not even close, played at the highest level at practice.”
Though Roberson was the incumbent starter after starting the last five games last season as a freshman, he was in competition throughout the spring with junior college transfer Cameron Coffman and early in preseason practice with Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld. Early on, however, it was evident that Roberson had improved enough in the passing game to be able to handle new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell’s offense and that he was ahead of his incoming challengers. Wilson didn’t make it official until recently that Roberson would be the starter, but he has been saying for at least the last two weeks that Roberson is “the guy.”
“He’s competed and progressed every single day,” Littrell said. “He’s worked extremely hard.”
The tailback situation was always going to be by committee. However, Wilson was less pleased by the work ethic of the incumbent starter at that position. Freshman Tevin Coleman was listed as the starter on Friday’s depth chart, ahead of junior tailback Stephen Houston, who rushed for 802 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Wilson first stressed that no one has won the job. Coleman, Houston and sophomore D’Angelo Roberts will all see time, he said.
“I don’t know if anyone’s won it, (Coleman) has just played the best short term,” Wilson said. “He’s playing the hardest and he’s awfully talented. … With Stephen and Teven and D’Angelo, those are the three that we’re primarily going to this game with. They’re all comparable. Tevin’s probably got the most talent. Stephen can be the most consistent, doesn’t play the hardest. D’Angelo’s a nice change-up that fits in. You’ll see them all. I don’t know if I’d call anyone the starter. Tevin has played harder and has the most talent. We’ll start with that and see how it goes. At the same time, if you’re a good football team, you’re going to play more than one back. You’re going to need two or three.”
That being said, Wilson repeated that Houston hasn’t met his standard.
“I was talking to Stephen the other day,” Wilson said. “I said, ‘Maybe I’m wrong, but my standard for you is pretty high. Now maybe I’m the guy who’s wrong. Maybe my standard shouldn’t be as high. My standard it’s a little bit higher than I see your performance.’ Maybe I’m wrong. Sometimes we all make mistakes. Maybe I’m the guy making the mistake and I misjudged what I think he is. I think he could be an upper-level Big Ten back. He’s 220 (pounds). He’s got really good feet. He’s got really good hands. But he needs to be better in pass protection. He needs to be more physical. He needs to run behind his pads and get two or three tough yards. That’s where he’s not complete. The physical side of his game needs to come out. His skill set is reasonably good and he can have the edge and the attitude of a great running back, he can be an upper level running back. Right now he’s a pretty good one.”
Coleman has a chance to be one as well.
“He just runs hard,” Wilson said. “Fast. Has instincts. Some guys got it…. He has a chance to be pretty good.”
Of course, Wilson’s also been burned by tailbacks before. Much of last season, he said, every time a back ran well, he got a big head and failed to perform the following week.
“Around here, as soon as we do good, we’ve been so poor, as soon as someone does something, someone pats them on the head,” Wilson said. “Their head gets inflated. We get out there and play average as all get out. It’s just a vicious cycle of up and down and up and down. No one knows how to keep coming. No one knows how to handle success. No one knows how to push themselves. A couple of guys like Tre and some guys, other guys haven’t done poorly, they just haven’t done the standard that they’re capable of doing, the standard of winning they need, the culture we’re trying to create. We’re not a bad team because of bad players. We’re a a bad team because good players don’t play good enough. That’s why you’re not good.”
— Wilson is impressed by Indiana State and coach Trent Miles, who he actually tried to hire when he got the Indiana job.He’s extremely impressed by tailback Shakir Bell, who finished tied for second in the voting for the Walter Payton Award voting for the Football Championship Subdivision player of the year, as well as Buck Buchanon Award candidate and defensive end Ben Obaseki.
“You watched them play Penn State (last season),” Wilson said. “Fly around and score, they got a little end and they were teeing off on those cats. They got six preseason all-league players, they got an excellent punter. Trent, who I know reasonably well, not great but I got a lot of respect for him. He’s a no-nonsense guy who’s going to get their team to play their style. Their style is they’re gonna try to be a very physical football team. They’re gonna try to run the football. They’re gonna play great defense. They’re gonna play stubborn defense. They’re gonna play stubborn defense. They’re gonna take away that run and try to get you one-dimensional, get you third and long and tee off on the quarterback. They’re impressive…. There’s a reason they’re talking about them to be conference champions.”
— Wilson gave his early idea of the freshmen he eventually sees playing as true freshmen. Coleman, wide receiver Ricky Jones, left tackle Jason Spriggs, and guard Dan Feeney are the most obvious. He said backup right tackle Dimitric Camiel is “on the bubble” to play. Defensive tackle Alex Todd will likely play, and Ralphael Green is also “on the bubble.” Defensive end Nick Mangieri and linebacker Jordan Wallace are likely to play, and defensive back Dawson Fletcher will likely at least help on special teams.
— Wilson said most of his injured players have returned to practice. Defensive tackle Nicholas Sliger is out with a knee injury, but left tackle Charlie Chapman and tailback Isaiah Roundtree are both back after sitting out significant time with concussions. Chapman was about for about three weeks and Roundtree was out for about one. Though Chapman and Roundtree are back, Wilson said they will not play in Saturday’s game.
“If you don’t practice and you miss significant time, we got enough players, we’re building a team,” Wilson said. “You go with the guys who are fighting for ya. We’ll see if those guys get back in time. It’s just unfortunate, but that’s the nature of the business. It’s kind of the nature of building a program. We’ll see where those guys are.”
Cornerback Greg Heban, who had missed a few days, has returned to practice and will be available.