Hoosiers want to tip the scales this month

Front and center inside Indiana’s football team auditorium is a set of scales.

The scales represent IU’s season-opening matchup against Ohio State — one dish for the Hoosiers and one for the Buckeyes. The left dish, which belongs to Ohio State, is full of pennies. IU’s dish on the right only has but a few.

The reasoning, as coach Tom Allen explains, is simple. Indiana assumes Ohio State will maximize each of its opportunities to improve during this month’s fall camp. The Hoosiers, meanwhile, have the ability to add to their dish after each practice. A good day on the field means a few more pennies in the IU dish.

In a month’s time, Allen wants the scale to gradually start leaning to the right.

“We’re trying to deposit on that side and show them that it’s a daily process of continuing to get where we want to be and tip those scales in our favor by Aug. 31,” Allen said.

The coins are merely beginning to add up for the Hoosiers, who completed their third practice of the preseason on Friday. Of course, it’s still early in camp — Friday marked the first day in pads — but Allen says his group is on track to compete with the Buckeyes, who are ranked No. 2 in the preseason coaches poll.

Through the first three days, the offense and the defense have taken turns delivering winning performances during practice. The defense won Thursday’s session. Friday was the offense’s turn.

And while the defensive-minded Allen surely hates to concede to the offense, as head coach, he believes it’s a good sign for what’s to come.

“I never walk off the field thinking, ‘Man, both sides had a great day,'” Allen said. “I think that when you’re still working on your own things against each other, like the spring ball mentality and what you do early in camp, you have to feel good about the fact that it’s back and forth, for sure.”

In front of Big Ten Network cameras Friday, senior Ian Thomas continued to demonstrate his skill at the tight end position. The 6-foot-5, 248-pound former junior college transfer looks the part of a Big Ten playmaker, and his emergence bodes well for IU’s passing attack this fall.

A quick and strong pass-catching tight end like Thomas gives quarterback Richard Lagow a nice security net in the aerial game, and the two have already seemed to develop good rapport.

Others on the offensive side of the ball are also making their marks.

With right tackle Brandon Knight expected to miss a chunk, if not most, of this month’s camp, Allen wants to see Delroy Baker continue to step up on the right side of the line.

Allen is also high on freshman center Harry Crider, who has pleased his coaches with his approach to his first few college practices.

“I thought all spring long when he wasn’t here, and just knowing him as a person and knowing his talent, it would surprise me if he’s not right here helping this team in a big way on the O-line,” Allen said. “He’s done nothing but reaffirm that in these first three days.”

Defensively, Allen is pleased with the early returns from a collection of his freshmen. Allen likes LaDamion Hunt’s attitude and work ethic at corner, and appreciates Juwan Burgess’ skill at safety. Bryant Fitzgerald, whom Allen believes was the best high school player in the state last fall, is also living up to his billing in the defensive backfield.

Allen is also proud of defensive tackle Juan Harris, who has slimmed down considerably since first getting onto campus in January. The IU coach won’t say what the 6-foot-3 former four-star prospect weighed when he arrived, but Allen says the goal is to have Harris at a playing weight between 350 to 360 pounds.

“He’s bought in to what we’ve asked of him,” Allen said. “He’s a very powerful kid and learning to play hard and getting himself in shape to play more snaps. He’s hard to move. He’s a big ol’ boy.”

Around IU, “big” seems to be the word of the month. The Hoosiers are preparing for what Allen has deemed the biggest season opener in Indiana football history when Ohio State rolls into town on Aug. 31.

During the coming weeks, the Hoosiers want to continue making big gains in camp to eventually tip the scales behind the scenes.

“The kids are working hard,” Allen said. “I love the mindset that they have at meetings at night. There’s tremendous lock-in from their eyes, tremendous buy-in. Those things matter a lot to me. I’m seeing a lot of that right now.”