Indiana’s spring practice sessions have already claimed a few casualties, and the Hoosiers already vulnerable defense has taken the brunt of those losses.
Safety Mark Murphy, the Hoosiers’ fourth-leading tackler last season, was already out after surgery to repair a torn labrum. Safety Drew Hardin, a backup safety, was removed from the team at the beginning of the spring for a violation of team rules. Now, IU coach Kevin Wilson said, middle linebacker David Cooper and outside linebacker Chase Hoobler are both out. Cooper suffered an ankle injury in a scrimmage and Hoobler has broken his foot and will miss the rest of the spring.
Wilson said the Hoosiers are still trying to find the correct balance of intensity and intelligence in practice. He said one of the injuries happened because another player was “out of control.”
“We lost one guy in a set that I call friendly fire,” Wilson said. “We’re in a full-go setting and a player’s out of control and falls into a guy. It’s teaching your guys how to be physical, how to play fast, but how to stay on your feet. That’s tough. If you’re not careful, they don’t play fast enough or physical enough. If you complain too much about it, you don’t get after it. But if you turn it into a free-for-all, you get friendly fire, and you get good players getting chipped up. When you’ve got good players missing practice, that’s a bad formula too. There’s a balance. We need to build this physical toughness, but we have to build this physical toughness, the physicality, but we’ve got to have respect and intelligence.”
There are some silver linings to the injuries for the defense, but it also causes some problems. It does mean more repetitions for newcomers, such as junior college transfer linebacker Steven Funderburke and early-enrollee linebacker T.J. Simmons. But of course, it also means the Hoosiers are running first-team reps in a spring with a group that may not bear much resemblance to the first team when the season starts.
“You’ve got two of your starting linebackers missing the first practices,” IU co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Doug Mallory said. “They got a little nicked up. You lose those kids. It’s whatever, the next guy’s gotta step up. Those guys gotta take it as an opportunity. They’re gonna get more reps. If you’re a second-team guy, you move up and get more reps, the third team guy moves up and gets more reps. Hopefully in the long run, it gives us better competition and more depth.”
Despite the injuries and the incidents of friendly fire, Mallory said he still wants the team to play tougher in spring ball.
“All 11 positions have to be a lot more physical then we have been in the past,” Mallory said. “From a defensive standpoint, all 11 positions need to play a lot more physical than we have in the past. We’re seeing signs of it, just not on a consistent basis.”
— Mallory said he’s pleased so far with the addition of linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator William Inge.
“He’s just starting up, but we’re excited to have him on board,” Mallory said. “I think he’s gonna be a great fit. Tremendous coach, great person, think he’ll be a great staff guy, think he’ll blend in well with the rest of the staff, and I think he’ll blend in well with the rest of the staff. I think he’s gonna offer some good insight at the linebacker position as well as the overall scheme. He’s got great background both as a player and as a coach. He’s played the position and excelled at the position. We’re excited to have him on board knowing he’s gonna do a great job and bring a lot to our program.”
— Just in case you were wondering, no, Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell did not have to go to the store to buy that flannel, pearl-snap shirt with the cut-off sleeves that he wore to practice the day before spring break when IU coach Kevin Wilson asked coaches to show up in Spring Break gear to get a laugh out of the players. Wilson — who was wearing a beach hat, Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts and carrying around an inner-tube that looked like a duck — Littrell and several other IU coaches posed for a picture in beach gear while standing on a patch of snow at Memorial Stadium that was disseminated through the IU football Twitter account.
“I packed that away,” Littrell said. “I’ve had that since college, man. I have another one, it’s brown. I got a blue one and a brown one. We were gonna do Spring Break pictures the next day. I had to ask my wife, ‘Honey, where’s my pearl snaps at? I gotta get those on and get rocking before the morning.’ We’re trying to have fun with these guys and again, they’re buying in and having a lot of fun. That’s important. This is a year-long job now, 365 days a year anymore. You’re always thinking about it, always working at something. You’ve gotta have a little fun in the mean time. If you can’t laugh at yourself every now and again, you’ve got some issues.”
Littrell said he’s trying to bring the pearl snaps back.
“That was back in the day man, the pearl snaps was sweet,” he said. “The pearl snaps was the shirt back in the day. I think I can bring that back in style. The problem is I’m too white, too pale. I need a tan. Maybe a tan, some bigger muscles, I haven’t worked out here in about three years. Maybe I’ll start working out, do some benches and some curls.”