Wilson hopes more young players can break through #iufb

The last few recruiting cycles have yielded classes that Kevin Wilson believes could be Indiana’s best in years. Now, the IU coach wants to see those first- and second-year players take the field with regularity.

The development of Hoosier youth takes an added importance at this time of the year, as IU deals with injuries at key positions and the expected wear and tear of Big Ten football. To this point, underclassmen have momentarily impressed when forced into action, but Wilson is asking for more contributions from freshmen and sophomores as IU begins to grind through a challenging stretch of games this month.

“We need young players to continue to enhance their role,” Wilson said. “I think a lot of young first- and second-year players were playing some, but special teams were a more significant part of the rotation. Whether it be our skill players at receiver or some of our young linemen, D-linemen, we’ve got to keep bringing guys along. They need to practice better so coaches can get them on the field. I think that would help us a ton.”

Wilson has put heat on his position coaches, asking them to get more of the youngsters involved across the field on Saturdays. The counterargument Wilson often hears from those coaches brings the discussion back to practice habits. Coaches aren’t going to play underclassmen that aren’t consistent enough to warrant more snaps on game days.

That part plays into Wilson’s 2015 mantra of asking players, especially young ones, to show up play after play, week after week, on Saturdays and during the week.

“When a young guy plays well one week, where’s he at the next week?” Wilson said. “He thinks he’s figured it out. The older you get, you realize, ‘I’m really not that good. I’m not that bad. I’ve got to keep working and get better.’ With a young player, you get peaks and valleys and highs and lows.”

Through five weeks, Indiana has played 11 true freshmen — four of whom have been regulars in IU’s thin secondary, and another handful of whom that have appeared more on special teams. Of that latter group, Indiana could benefit from more offensive appearances from receivers Leon Thornton and Nick Westbrook.

Few, if any, members of IU’s current rotation at receiver have higher ceilings that those of Thornton and Westbrook, two players who received loads of praise over the summer for their skill sets, size and long-term projections. Indiana’s passing game has functioned generally fine this season, but it could always use more wide outs who can impact a game. Of Thornton and Westbrook, Wilson recently indicated the two have “been playing dominant as hell on the outside,” but they need to practice more consistently.

A potentially season-ending quad injury to Danny Friend is a big loss to Indiana’s tight end group. Now Indiana needs Anthony Corsaro and Michael Cooper to block well in his absence, and for sophomore Jordan Fuchs to play better if he’s going to be pressed into action.

There could also be a big need at running back this week depending on the health of Jordan Howard’s ankle. Sophomore Devine Redding can’t carry the load by himself, and Wilson has indicated that walk-ons Alex Rodriguez and Andrew Wilson are likely to contribute against Penn State.

The need for more talented youth isn’t limited to offensive skill positions. Beyond Thornton and Westbrook, Wilson specifically has called upon safety Jameel Cook, defensive end Jacob Robinson, offensive tackle Brandon Knight, linebacker Will Dawkins, corner Tyler Green and bandit Brandon Wilson to keep improving.

Wilson said this week that no one has been a disappointment, but no one has broken through.

“As a matter of fact, I think we’re playing guys that are not as talented as them, but they don’t consistently show that you can count on them to do the job,” Wilson said. “So they’ve got the skill set. We’re just asking them, as young men, embrace the process, buy in, pay attention, practice better so we can get you on the field because we need them on the field.”

Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns echoed Wilson’s call for more consistent practice on Monday, noting some young players are still adjusting to the work load. Few freshmen were on campus for spring practice, and Johns said the adjustment from summer workouts to preseason camp to the grind of the season can be a difficult adjustment.

“You get to a point where you’re just starting Big Ten play and some of them tend to hit a wall,” Johns said. “Some of them keep going. We need those guys to keep going and keep playing consistently. They have the talent. It’s just a matter of having the maturity to handle this workload.”