Evaluating skill positions with Kevin Johns #iufb

Nearly two full weeks into fall camp, Indiana offensive coordinator Kevin Johns finds his group at a similar spot as in previous years.

He’s pleased with the overall appearance of his offense, but there remains more to tackle leading into IU’s season opener against Southern Illinois on Sept. 5. Right now, most of the focus remains simply lining up, playing fast and executing base concepts.

“So far, so good, but there are still miles to go,” Johns said.

With camp nearing the midway point, Johns spent time this week evaluating where each of his offensive skill positions stand.

Receivers

Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige remain the most consistent players in this group, though some of the underclassmen are making their marks.

Leon Thornton, Nick Westbrook and Simmie Cobbs have each made impressive catches during portions of practice that are open to reporters. Last week, cornerback Rashard Fant said Jones and Westbrook have been two of the most impressive receivers in camp.

Coaches also seem to be happy with Dominique Booth’s progression.

Johns said the group of freshmen look good, but acknowledged he won’t know what he truly has until they get into games.

“I like my young guys a lot, but I also don’t think it’s shaking out yet,” Johns said. “There is still a big clump of guys in there where not everyone has necessarily separated themselves. But everyone is making it tough to separate yourself because guys are playing really well. I like the competition.”

Running backs

Now that Jordan Howard is fully healthy, the UAB transfer is living up to the expectations IU coaches had for him. A hyperextended elbow limited Howard in the spring, but he looks like the kind of running back the Hoosiers envisioned getting in Jaunary.

“The kid ran a 4.4 (40-yard dash) in the winter, so we knew he was fast,” Johns said. “He’s heavy, he ran for 1,000 yards a year ago, so we know what he can do. Now it’s just a matter of him feeling our runs and protections and getting an overall better awareness of what we’re trying to do.”

Johns and running backs coach Deland McCullough have both said they’re impressed with Jordan’s speed for a 6-foot-1, 230-pounder. They knew he was more of a power back, but there are signs of breakaway ability, too. Howard has also impressed with his vision and his ability to consistently fall forward.

Had Howard decided on transferring elsewhere, IU would have been comfortable moving forward with Devine Redding as the potential starter. Regardless of who starts, Redding figures to see plenty of time on the field this fall. He’s also impressed as a pass catcher and in pass protection situations.

“He’s more of a slasher, as well,” Johns said of Redding. “I think they’re very compararble and that’s why, for us, we don’t really care who’s out there. We don’t really miss a beat.”

Tight ends

Two years ago, while Indiana’s passing offense led the Big Ten in production, Ted Bolser played a key role. But behind Bolser, IU’s depth at the tight end position was weak.

Now Johns feels like the group has nearly a handful of players with skill, experience and, perhaps most importantly, a clean sheet of health.

“They’re very skilled and talented, with (Anthony) Corsaro and (Jordan) Fuchs,” Johns said. “They run extremely well. Danny Friend is coming back phenomenally from his (knee) injury from a year ago. He’s probably having the best camp out of anybody. We like all those guys right now.”

Quarterbacks

While Indiana continues to evaluate its options at backup quarterback, Johns says he feels better about the position’s depth this season than he did a year ago.

Johns points to the experience of Zander Diamont along with the strong spring and summers of Danny Cameron and Nate Boudreau.

IU coach Kevin Wilson said last week that if both Diamont and Cameron emerge from fall camp at similar levls — or if Diamont is only marginally ahead of Cameron — he would prefer to give Cameron the backup reps in September and let Diamont retreive the redshirt season he lost in 2014 when he was forced to step in for injured starter Nate Sudfeld over the final six games.

Johns also said he recently used Diamont’s 2014 season as an example for freshman Austin King.

“I just had that talk with Austin King,” Johns said. “(I said), ‘Austin, even though you’re not taking reps with the No. 1s, if you stop learning, boy, we’re in trouble.’ That’s what happened a year ago. We got caught. We learned our lesson — I have as a coach — to make sure we get everybody ready to go even when they don’t get reps.”

7 comments

  1. It will be a good offense if the young receivers and TEs rise up and be quality receivers. The running game should make it easier for the receivers as defenses should have to focus on the run. The defense still looks like it will be much better if the young DBs can keep big plays from happening. This will be an interesting team because it could struggle due to the young players or it could really be good if the older players make the younger ones play makers. You just don’t know about young players; some step up and play like they have been there a long time and make plays while others shrink from the playing as they are unsure about themselves.

    I had a team in high school that had a season where the bottom dropped out and we were last in the league only winning 2 games in regular season and then 2 in the play-offs. People though our good run was over but didn’t see the talent we had coming back. The talent was young as we started 7 juniors, 1 sophomore, and two freshman. What made us the State Champion Team in 4A was our seniors decided they wouldn’t let their team go out as losers. We had close games in the play-offs and had to come back in games to win [we had two great comebacks against #1 DeKalb, and #2 Hobart] and I can see IU in this situation. What I don’t know is will they win the games people don’t think they can or will they come up short and fall short in the season. I will be cheering for them to win the games and having a magic season.

  2. very interesting article, what is going on with w/r Marqui Hawkins?? you do not hear his name mention at all as being in the mix, has the two years off (not playing) hurt him??….maybe to build up depth and look toward the future w/r Westbrook and Thornton should be redshirt this year, provide Camion Patrick passes the NCAA investigation…the only way a team will be able to reload is to occasionally redshirt some players……maybe we will see more two tight end formation from Indiana this year, provide the talent is their…..Hopefully Nate Sudfeld will stay healthy this year and Zander Diamont can redshirt this year and we have a real QB competition and depth next year…According to Coach Deland Mccullough the indiana running back positions is loaded, provide no injuries….hopefully and looks like the team is really coming together. GO IU!!

  3. Interesting and encouraging! When I think back to this blog several years ago, the articles were focused on getting folks to play these skill positions with little to no talk about competition or depth. So, again, the strength of our coaching staff clearly is recruiting which is critically important in our stage of development. While I do think 6 games are winnable, we’re probably short in several defensive positions; so its going to be tough.

  4. IU 79, like you I wonder about Hawkins, Patrick, and Booth as they aren’t often mentioned by coaches or QBs. We hear more about Cobbs, Westbrook, Thornton, and Jones which translates into good depth or an inconsistent receiving group this year. It would be great if our TEs become a big threat allowing IU’s offense to attack defenses at every level and position. I am ready for the season to start so we can see how this team develops. Other that knowing the history of IU football I am having a hard time not expecting great things from this team.

  5. IU79, just so you know, there is no NCAA investigation on Patrick. He has to pass IU’s standards. It’s an issue with a certain class.

  6. I think with Patrick, they are just trying to keep him with a low profile in case he doesn’t qualify. It hurts with perception of the other guys if the coaches hang praise on a guy that doesn’t end up playing during the season.

  7. Jimmy0 you are right about why Patrick isn’t eligible yet. PB I think you are right about the way they are handling him right now. I hope he clears this next week and it lets him relax and just play ball becoming a big cog in the passing game. IU sure has some size in the receiver corps which will go along with the big TEs that can make it tough on defenses. I sure hope the receivers catch the ball more consistently than last year as each play is too valuable to come up short and try to overcome it on the next play. It would be nice to have Nate be over 70% completion rate but the receivers will be a big part of that and they have to do their jobs.

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