Penix confident he’s ‘on schedule’ to return for 2021 opener

In Michael Penix Jr.’s first words to the media since an ACL injury, the Indiana quarterback made his intentions clear.

When the Hoosiers open their 2021 season at Iowa on Sept. 4, he expects to be behind center.

“The main thing is making sure we don’t have any setbacks and keep moving forward,” Penix said. “I know, for sure, I’ll be ready come game day.”

Penix, a redshirt sophomore, tore the ACL in his right knee in IU’s game versus Maryland in late November. It’s the same ACL he tore during his true freshman campaign in 2018, returning the following season to claim the starting quarterback job.

Now more than two months out from his most recent ACL surgery, Penix’s aim continues to be a return to the field in time for IU’s opener, and he believes he’s on schedule.

“I’m on schedule, if not a little ahead of schedule,” Penix said. “I’ve been working extremely hard to get back. I’m doing everything I can to continue to help motivate the team and be a leader, even if I can’t do certain activities. But I’ve been doing real good, progressing every week, and I feel myself getting a lot stronger and feeling more comfortable in my body still.”

Penix isn’t running yet, and strength coach Aaron Wellman indicated Penix is still with IU’s medical team during group workouts. But Wellman vouched for Penix’s progress, working to get strength back in his right leg and symmetry between the right and the left.

While there are good and bad days for athletes returning from an injury like this, Wellman expressed a belief that Penix will do what’s necessary to recover.

“Guys who love the game like Mike and guys who are competitors always find a way to get themselves ready to go, and Mike is no different,” Wellman said. “Mike wants to be great. Mike is a really good player and wants to come back from this even stronger than he was before the injury. That’s a common trait amongst competitive athletes who love their sport, who love what they do.

“So I have no concerns with Mike as far as his work ethic and his ability to come back from this.”

Penix has certainly had to overcome a lot. Aside from his knee injuries, Penix suffered through a litany of ailments as a redshirt freshman, including a strained shoulder, concussion protocol, and a season-ending right sternoclavicular joint sprain. The latter occurred in November 2019 versus Northwestern. Penix packed on about 15 pounds of muscle to fortify his body for the 2020 season.

The lefty was able to make six consecutive starts under center in 2020, matching the total he played on and off in 2019. But then his knee gave out while going out of bounds at the end of a long scramble versus the Terrapins. It was a cruel blow, especially with the Hoosiers in the middle of a historic season.

“At the beginning, I was kind of down, but just help from my family and friends and teammates, they kept me up,” Penix said. “This is something I don’t wish on anybody and nobody wishes they were in this position. But having them be on my side, pushing me every single day, telling me to stay motivated and continue to chase my dream, that was real helpful.”

Penix has NFL aspirations, and his production — when healthy — has done nothing to dampen those prospects. In 12 career starts, he’s thrown for 3,039 yards and 24 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He’s completed at a 62% rate.

It’s just whether Penix can stay healthy that will determine his ultimate future. Penix said there have been days where his leg is a little stiff or sore, but he’s pushing through it. He’s taking a careful approach, even watching where and how he walks with ice on the ground as of late. He just doesn’t want any setbacks.

Penix is just following what Wellman and the medical staff prescribe for his rehab. Running and throwing can come later.

“I’m still trying to stay positive right now. Where I’m at now, I’m very positive, I love where I’m at now and I like the growth, (what) I’ve overcome, since the injury,” Penix said. “I’m very excited to just go out and do what I can this season with the guys.”

IU returns plenty of playmakers from a team that went 6-2 and finished No. 12 in the Associated Press poll, especially from the defensive side of the ball. While the Hoosiers did lose junior safety Jamar Johnson to the NFL Draft, along with redshirt senior defensive tackle Jerome Johnson, a unit that forced 17 interceptions in just six games returns everyone else. IU also brings back redshirt senior “husky” Marcelino Ball, who also tore his ACL in 2020 and has been a training-room buddy for Penix.

On the offensive side, running back Stevie Scott and receiver Whop Philyor have opted for the draft, but senior Ty Fryfogle decided to use the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted fall athletes. That news delighted Penix, who connected with the All-American receiver for the first back-to-back 200-yard receiving games in Big Ten history during the 2020 campaign.

“We talked about it for a while,” Penix said. “He was real honest with me. He said he wanted to come back, he wanted to be a part of the program, continue to help build the program up, and continue to have a connection. That’s something that’s real big for our offense, having him come back. He made a lot of explosive plays and big-time moments.”

And if all goes well, it will be Penix once again throwing Fryfogle those passes on Sept. 4 at Iowa.

“It’s going to be a great season,” Penix said, “as long as we continue to stay focused and stay motivated and chase greatness.”

Spring, pro day dates

Spring practice for Indiana football will begin March 9, the program announced Monday.
 
IU also announced it will hold a pro day for athletes who have declared for the NFL draft on April 2.
 
Last year, IU was able to squeeze in just four spring practices before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all athletic activities. IU did not get to hold a pro day, either.

16 comments

  1. Looking and observing from outside can’t say enough about Penix leadership, perseverance, and attitude.

  2. He’s a special talent. Now he has to learn how to master the most important ability, and that’s “availability.”

  3. It is good to read an article about Penix’s recovery and the news is good from him and the coaches. Penix is a special talent and person. He makes players believe in him and the team. I hope he stays healthy all year this coming season and shows how good he really is. I am sure Fryfogle is counting on Penix is coming back so he can have a great season trying to make to the NFL.

    Penix gives IU the chance to beat any team IU plays in 2021. Getting him to stay on the field and excel will be the key to a great season.

  4. Would it be better if Phenix sit out the upcoming 2021 seasons to get healthier (bigger and stronger), than come back in 2022 seasons, considering Phenix has NFL aspiration. Would sitting out this year really give Phenix a better chance of making the NFL.

    1. With three season ending injuries, MP wants to get back on the field as quickly as possible to preserve his opportunity to play in the NFL. If he’s healthy, he plays, and if he makes it through the season, he’ll declare for the draft.

      1. It’s possible, but I’m not sure about him declaring for the draft after only one complete season. It would have to be a very special season, otherwise Penix would risk being drafted in the mid to later rounds and languishing as a back-up. Remember, Penix is still very young. He won’t turn 21 until May 8th.

        1. If he makes it through and he plays even fairly well, he’ll go pro. Had he stayed healthy, he might’ve gone after this past season.

    2. NFL scouts have short memories and sitting out would jeopardize his future. Plus, who’s to say that one of the guys behind him wouldn’t surpass him? Penix will be bigger and stronger next season, just like he was last season. The question is, will the connective tissue in his right knee hold up? Sitting out a year wouldn’t affect his ACL.

  5. Penix has been rated #9 QB in college despite missing the last few games. Getting a full year will move him up in the rankings and help IU win games. Penix is getting bigger and stronger according to S&C coaches and I think that helps him in 2021 season. With his attitude and talent I don’t think anyone behind him will beat him out in 2021. I hope Penix has a great year and wins the Heisman Trophy and get picked early in the NFL draft. IU has very good QBs behind him to take over in 2022.

    1. I’ve seen his ranking amongst college QBs as high as 5th. As for winning the Heisman, that’s a very tall order for any IU player. I’ll settle for first team All Big Ten and maybe first team All American.

      1. PO, you are right about winning the Heisman but if he has a great year and IU wins games against the best teams then it is possible he can win it. Also notice I said hope he wins the Heisman. I think Penix has the talent to win the games as QB especially if the defense improves even more this coming year with a new DC and help from coach Allen.

        This coming year is a & mark season with new coaches but I bet IU will be better this year and the players play all out. We have some very good receivers, RB, and returning OL with a very good OL grad coming in to go with Penix and play their best.

        1. We don’t have a grad transfer OL, he play last year as a freshman and has 4 years of eligibility remaining. Even with that, the OL and RB positions will be huge question marks for IU next season.

  6. BD, yes I know the OL isn’t a grad transfer it just is almost automatic to type that instead of a transfer. The OL has always been a ? mark since coach Hiller has been here and our RBs just need experience because they have shown flashes of their talent. Coach McCollough has shown the ability to make RBs very good and I believe he will do that this year at IU if the OL improves.

    I trust coach Allen to see the offense improve this year or make changes with the coaches in charge of the offense and OL. He has shown the ability to bring in very good coaches and if the offense and OL don’t improve the running game it will be time to make changes. To continue to improve IU needs to improve on the offensive side, there were limitations in 2020 but the defense improved despite the limitations so I don’t buy the limitations were the reason for deficiencies on offense. The short fields were the reason IU scored on offense and too often the offense was shut down during long stretches of the game. 2021 will be a real test to see how well the offense does this year. I hope the team really takes off this year and goes through the season beating the teams they did last season and beating Cincinnati along the way.

    1. Our limitations at OL and RB are a function of talent and depth at both positions, and have been for several years. Don’t think anyone has ever suggested that it’s a coaching problem, as there wouldn’t be anything to support that. We need better players up front and in the backfield, and more of them. It’s largely a recruiting issue where we’ve missed on too many guys.

  7. So you are saying coach Hart wasn’t a good recruiter, many would disagree with your position. Your position that is it a lack of good recruiting doesn’t mesh with what we see the defense. They are excelling with players rated just the same as the offensive players but the defensive coaches seem to get more out of their players. This is odd because defense is tougher to take lower rated players and excel since offense can attack whatever weakness exist. I think the offensive staff has a couple of coaching problems but I am willing to wait and see this coming season.

    This next season we will find out if it is a coaching issue or not. If things improve on the offense then I will admit it isn’t a coaching problem but recruiting is a coaching issue.

  8. Plenty of scoopers have expressed concern about Hiller over the last two years. As to whether it’s his ability to recruit or his ability to develop the guys he signs, it’s still a “coaching” issue. I don’t believe IU’s O-line has been terrible by Big Ten standards, but it clearly has not been one of the team’s strongest position groups over the last two seasons. There’s obviously room for improvement in both depth and level of talent, but it’s hard to criticize a group that continues to have guys drafted into the NFL every year. I believe that the O-line is the hardest position group to recruit. I think a college program’s reputation/tradition has more influence on O-linemen than for any other position group. I mean look at the history of Wisconsin, PSU, MI, OSU and Iowa. Those schools have been developing NFL linemen for decades; it’s part of their programs’ identity and brand. IU is simply trying to build that reputation and brand.

    I found the comments made by IU’s transfer from Michigan very insightful. To try to paraphrase, I believe he said something to the affect of, “during the recruiting process, I wanted to go to IU but everybody told me to accept the offer from Michigan because it was such a good program and had such a strong history for developing linemen.” That’s what Hiller and IU are up against, and that’s why I think it is essential that IU continues to work that transfer portal.

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