5 questions to ponder during IU’s fall camp

Indiana’s first fall practice gets underway Thursday afternoon in Bloomington. With that, we’ve compiled a list of five questions to monitor over the coming weeks:

1. Who stands out at receiver?

Without Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes on the outside last year, IU quarterback Nate Sudfeld struggled to build early rapport with his targets. Now that Shane Wynn is also out of Bloomington, Sudfeld will lean on a large group of freshmen and sophomores to step into starting and supporting roles. The biggest question, which may be able to be answered today, is the status of junior college transfer Camion Patrick. IU coach Kevin Wilson lauded Patrick after he signed with IU in February, holding him up as a possible instant impact receiver in the mold of Latimer. But Patrick could be forced to sit out the season depending on an academic issue. IU has already lost leading returning receiver J-Shun Harris to an ACL injury, but Sudfeld and the staff are high on the talent in the mix. Newcomers Nick Westbrook and Leon Thornton and UAB transfer Marqui Hawkins, along with returnees like Dominique Booth, Simmie Cobbs and Ricky Jones are all highly regarded.

2. How much will a new coaching approach help the secondary?

The Hoosier secondary remains the biggest concern entering the fall, so Wilson made a slight tweak to his coaching staff. Instead of keeping Brandon Shelby solely focused on corners and Noah Joseph on safeties, Wilson has given both of them assignments as co-secondary coaches. Wilson, who saw a similar system in place during his time at Oklahoma, said he wants to see more cohesiveness between all of his defensive backs. The corners and safeties play in tandem with one another on the field, and now Wilson is ensuring that they conduct meetings and practice together, too.

3. With Ralston Evans unavailable, who plays right tackle?

Evans was listed as the starter coming out of spring, but he decided to stop playing and take a medical waiver due to nagging knee injuries. While IU loses the experiece of Evans, the team has high hopes for former Ohio State prospect Tim Gardner and classmate Delroy Baker, a redshirt freshman. Gardner is listed at 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, while Baker is 6-6 and 305 pounds, so the Hoosiers won’t be without Big Ten-caliber size. Baker, who could be in line to replace Spriggs next season at left tackle, could instead find a long term home on the right side with a strong camp.

4. Can IU groom an adequate backup quarterback?

The depth behind starter Nate Sudfeld may be only marginally better than it was over the final six games of last season, so IU simply must keep the senior upright and healthy. Sudfeld, who was recently named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list, is a potential All-Big Ten quarterback. After him, there remains a significant drop off. Wilson said in the spring that he’d prefer to redshirt Zander Diamont this fall, provided Sudfeld stays healthy. That means Danny Cameron would run as the backup and play in mop-up duty. Incoming freshman Austin King is well regarded, but did not arrive on campus until this summer. If Sudfeld goes down, IU’s offense could once again be placed into a tough spot without a proven second-string option.

5. Can IU’s return game improve even without J-Shun Harris?

Harris and Wynn shared the bulk of the kick and punt return duties last season, so IU is essentially starting over. Last season, with those two and a couple others, Indiana’s return game was ranked last among Big Ten teams. Now, returnees like Ricky Jones, Damon Graham, Dominique Booth and perhaps Tommy Mister and Mitchell Paige, will get a crack at taking over and finding space. Keep an eye on a newcomer or two, as well. Guys like Devonte Williams, Isaac James and Mike Majette could factor into the discussion at some point, too. By the end of this month, the list of options should be whittled down.

28 comments

  1. Good commentary! It would appear that the most significant issue is the absence of a viable backup QB. Hopefully, we won’t need one. Once again, the improvements in talent and depth are measureable. Think the key to the upcoming season will be the overall health of the team going in to conference play. Assuming we aren’t too banged up, our talent level should be good enough to force some upsets. Even if we don’t get to six wins, if we can blow up a couple conference opponents (excluding PU), that would be some real progress! Go Hoosiers!

  2. Mike another good article heading into the start of Fall football. I felt comfortable with Zandar at QB by the end of the year. He showed in the OSU game and Purdue game the game isn’t too big for him. Is he a step down from Nate, yes he is but not the big step he was last year.

    The success of this team seems to lay on the shoulders of a young secondary and young receivers. They have the talent necessary to get the job done, they just have to go out and do it. If they can IU could look at winning 7 or more games this year.

  3. @vesuvius

    I agree on that Zander has come along way. The quality of play from the team as a whole that we saw against PU and OSU would have beaten BG and probably PSU (though would have lost to Missouri).

    We’ll be in a pretty big hole if we lose Sudfeld again, but Zander would at least give us a chance in majority of our games.

  4. I think Zander is a great kid! I’m not yet convinced he can stand up as a QB in this league though I agree that his performance at season end last year was beyond gutsy. My hope is that he can be developed into a solid starting QB in the B1G and CKW certainly has the reputation for developing QB(s).

  5. No doubt why it is being planned he RS as he needs another year or 2 to stand up to the B1G wear and tear. Because of the obvious bloodline I like Cam’s kid for anything and everything in the short term outside of NS behind the center. + he is 30lb. heavier than ZD. I suspect young Daniel developed well over the off season. If Wilson’s plan comes to be he’ll have 2, 3, 4 or 5 QB’s in place to compete for the #1 & 2 QB spots next year. The way he has always intended it. It will be whoever is the best arm at making good decisions. Right now I’m giving Cameron that edge. POTMFB GO IU

  6. I agree that Zander is a great kid. I really respect and applaud the guts, enthusiasm and mental toughness he displayed last year when he was thrust into an impossible situation. And he did improve a lot by the end of the season. With that said, I doubt he has progressed enough to adequately replace Sudfeld. When he arrived on campus, Wilson said it would take him two or three years to develop physically. I think that assessment was right on. I doubt he has matured physically enough (yet) in the off season to withstand the demands of the Big Ten season. Bottom line, Sudfeld must stay healthy if IU is going to have a chance to win six. If he goes down, no matter who his back-up is, the result will be another disappointing season for IU. None of the back-up QBs have the experience to replace Sudfeld. That’s not a knock on the back-ups, but rather a statement about how valuable Sudfeld is to this IU team.

    It is my hope that IU will have two or three games in which they build a big lead and that IU’s defense gives Wilson the confidence to remove Sudfeld and give his back-ups game experience. I know it is essential to give Sudfeld and his offense a lot of reps during pre-conference games for the opportunity do develop that chemistry, but that must be weighed against the risk of Sudfeld getting injured. I hope he gets to take a few fourth quarters off before IU starts conference play.

  7. Not having a sound and ready back-up QB seems like a very thin position Wilson should not be in at this point. And, at the college level, I still believe you need a QB that is not necessarily of the Tom Brady style/ NFL prototype/mold. By the time talent in the trenches is filtered to play at the highest levels of the NFL game, the best of the best behemoth centers, guards, tackles, and tight ends offer far greater walls of protection and chances at success for QB’s that may only possess average mobility and pure in-the-pocket passing strengths…

    But at the college level, it just seems very thin to put such confidence in your offensive line to protect a QB that doesn’t have the physical strength, or the comfort level and speed, to offer more dynamics when protection collapses. I see the problem similar to relying on Jordy Hulls to bring the ball up court against a VCU press. You need speed to counter speed(especially when IU will still be challenged to put together an offensive line that can rival those of a OSU, Penn St, Michigan….

    Sudfeld may very well be a standout NFL QB one day…..But even in the NFL, only the wisest and most seasoned QB’s destined for the Hall-of-Fame(e.g. Brady, Manning) survive as mostly pocket passers because of the top echelon of offensive lineman they have the luxury to play behind.

    i think of the extremely mobile and dynamic QB’s that teams like Michigan, OSU, and ND seem to bring year after year…A starter goes down and there is another superior speed demon QB in waiting that could just as likely comfortably play at a tailback or cornerback position. And then the backup takes them to a national championship…..as if never skipping a beat.

    Give Sudfeld the best lines in the Big 10 and premier receivers….? Afford to rest him occasionally while a dynamic run/pass/option QB could take a few snaps to preserve the fresh legs and arm while not risking as much punishment he may take during a breakdown of protection..?
    Bottom Line: Does the NFL prototype pocket-passing QB work on a bottom tier Big 10 program struggling to place the sizable beasts up front that can match speed-for-speed and pound-for-pound the best of the conference busting through a line? Unfortunately, I think it’s much the same as leaving Jordy on an island against a VCU press.

  8. I also think Zander is a nice and handsome young lad. And in the pocket, he looks like ‘The Young and the Restless’…or, maybe, The Young and the Terrified …? or ‘The Young and the Soon-to-be Brutally Pancaked’…? .or ‘The Young and the Beanstalk of Soiled Hip Pads’..?

    Nevertheless, nice young lad with dark eyebrows and zesty spunk.

  9. Cameron would run as the backup and play in mop-up duty

    I love that quote. When, on earth, has an IU Football team ever been the mop rather than the remaining spill of dirt and guts on the floor…? Sorry to send out some brutal truth…but “mop-up duty”…? IU Football gets a lot of mop-up duty? Really?

    You’ve been watching too many jumbotron intros

  10. Yeah, “mop up duty” is probably not in the equation just yet :). As I said before, winning 6 would be terrific and, while a stretch, not beyond our capability this year. However, each and every game, conference or otherwise, will be a struggle to the final whistle. The only exception might be SIU and I say “might.” We are still very young, inexperienced in several key areas and thin in places. You can be assured that our opponents, each and every one, have marked IU as a probable win. Most of them will prove correct. Our hope is that a few will wind up unpleasantly surprised!

  11. Most Big 10 teams don’t even use a mop against us…They generally just tidy up via a ‘Swifter’ ….with scrub attachment.

  12. If IU does not have the opportunity to get the back-up QB in to “mop-up” in at least two games this season, we’re in serious trouble. IU should not struggle to beat SIU or FIU. I assume Wake Forest will be a struggle simply because it’s an away game. And Western Kentucky is a very good team that will be tough to beat, even in Bloomington. But IU needs to win each of those non-conference games and then get two wins in conference play (Iowa and Purdue). If Sudfeld and the offense are clicking, IU can win six, and maybe even seven. If not, then Wilson will have some explaining to do and his seat will start to get hot. We have the talented,mature, experienced quarterback, we have a big and experienced O-line, we have depth, we have a more mature and athletic defense, and we have seven home games. We should have what it takes to win six in 2015.

  13. Don’t know how “cupcake” the cupcakes are on the early non-conference match-ups, but mop-up of anything is about as far away a luxury IU Football has ever imagined to historically enjoy.
    And if you don’t have a backup QB that can offer something different(in terms of a new run/option dynamic rather than just a more rusty version of a well-prepared, pocket QB, that has had enough snaps and PT to work out all the intricacies in a precision-oriented, hurry-up, big play, downfield offense), a coach that is pegged as having offensive brilliance probably should be on the hot seat.
    Seems like most our football fortunes hinge similarly on Sudfeld as everything hinged on Cody during our temporary b-ball resurgence. But football players get pretty banged up..A head coach may be playing with fire without some backup QB help that would offer different run dynamics and some speed/durability in the middle….

    But I highly doubt there will be many “mop-up” opportunities where we seeing 3-score leads late in the fourth. Is Sudfeld sturdy enough without a real Plan B in a Hoosier QB that may not have the same arm…but maybe a great set of wheels(e.g. a crafty runner/improvisor)?

  14. Protection is not just a function of the OL…As our protection has improved up front so will the seriousness and level of inventiveness or most fierce BIG opponents. And when we get to a level of not just playing against OSU’s and other top-tier BIG opponents’ second string defensive lines, protection will also becomes a function of the QB’s endurance, elusiveness, and speed mixed into his veteran decision-making skills.

  15. Be careful with player criticism. I got blasted for months for daring to say “Cody Zeller is no Larry Bird”.

    What the hell could I have been thinking?

  16. He’s no Larry Bird…? He’s no Alan Henderson…Not sure if he’s even a Kent Benson. No Final Four…His final game in a Hoosier uniform was a disaster. No real repertoire of post moves(especially from around the range of 10 feet with his back to the basket after receiving the entry pass)..Cody runs the floor well and functions pretty well slicing to the hoop off pick and rolls…He can snuff down some boards…What you do after snuffing down a board is much more challenging at the NBA level…You have to have more goods in the cupboard of moves…He’s never going to be anything approaching a dominant post player. He’s never going to approach anything nearing the skill set of a Tim Duncan or an Anthony Davis. Of course he’s no Larry Bird….He’s more like Big Bird. Big…rather aloof looking…like most struck by the light.

  17. And I certainly don’t have to be careful…People went after Jordy(“worst defender in all of college basketball’…constantly “abused” on defense)and Christian Watford(doesn’t try hard…mopes up court…”ship has sailed”) and never made any apologies…

  18. …as far as CW is concerned what would anyone apologize for?…he again played up to his M.O. in the recent $ tournament with Jordy and Will…and in the game that was important disappeared again…if not for 1 fortunate heave to the hoop no one would remember his name…apologize my ass…

  19. ..and one fortunate monstrous block and rebound in an NCAA game absolutely crucial to Crean retaining his job. With respect to Crean being erroneously called a competent coach, Watford saved his skin.

    Crean’s only claim to fame is the UK victory and back-to-back Sweet 16’s. After Watford’s “heave,”: Crean and Glass ran scared from UK and denied the fans a true rivalry marquee game. The dismantling by Syracuse, an exit from the NCAA tournament on the first weekend as a #1 seed losing to a #9 Temple, followed by a season of not even making the NIT, and Crean has long ago packed his bags. No he hasn’t ….just kidding. He hired his own AD. He could still have Danny Moore playing point guard and Glass would flush the millions down the toilet to save his own hide.

    But even with all that hide-saving clutch moments Watford provided Crean, apologize MY ASS for believing Watford is a sincerely likable and decent young man duped into playing for a spoiled and ignorant charlatan. …and still giving IU some memorable big moments to cherish.

  20. CW’s performances=a hog finding acorn once in a while. His heave is in the rear view mirror along with the rest his best BB days.

  21. And so what if his best moments are behind him? Join the party A.J. Moye, Jared Jeffries, Alan Henderson, Scott May and the countless other Hoosiers whose greatest moments were the college stage. Without those moments we don’t have banners and Final Fours… Crean’s worst moments are still in front of him.

  22. It’s a pretty big clutch moment to make a monstrous block of what appeared to be a wide-open dunk, subsequently gather the board in a frantic exchange of a game teetering in balance, save our NCAA tournament chances, while preventing the Hoosiers an early exit as a #1 seed. Crean can thank his lucky stars for the moments Christian came up big. Without the UK game and the block that stopped Temple, Crean looks nothing more than a voice instructor for Oladipo going home parties.

    Wafford’s “moments” works just fine. …especially within the contrast to Crean’s disintegrated “movements,” failed A-Hope projects, and transfer of a legit post play backup to Zeller. . Without simply the threat of Watford’s versatility and outside shooting, Crean’s miserable coaching skills would have been even more grossly exposed.

  23. 1739 career points of not showing up. 82% from the charity stripe of not showing up. A .423 3-pt. field goal percentage of not showing up. An improving Yogi Ferrell is now at.391 from 3-pt. range. Yeah, Watford never showed up.

  24. And on the plus side of things, there is still time for a Watford to show up at IU when we have a real coach to replace CharlaTom(you know, the guy with zero X’s and O’s showing up for every game).. .

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