Dexter Williams tears ACL, as Hoosiers go down another QB this spring

For the second time in four months, Indiana football has lost a quarterback to a torn ACL.

This time, it’s freshman Dexter Williams. IU coach Tom Allen announced the injury Monday, saying Williams’ tear came via a non-contact situation in practice. The quarterback from Macon, Ga., will have surgery in a couple of weeks, Allen added.

The Hoosiers are already without starter Michael Penix Jr., who is still recovering from an ACL tear suffered during a November game with Maryland. Jack Tuttle is now the only scholarship quarterback participating in spring practice.

IU does have another scholarship signal-caller that will join the program before the 2021 season, four-star signee Donaven McCulley from Indianapolis. But for now, it’s a trio of freshman walk-ons — Zack Merrill, Grant Gremel, and Will Jontz – that are seeing reps behind Tuttle at spring practice.

“That’s why you go out and recruit a full room of guys that are bought in and doing the little things right,” Allen said. “Jack’s took a bunch of reps and is doing a really good job this spring and that has to continue.”

The absence of Penix theoretically made reps for Tuttle and Williams that much more available this spring, which would have been particularly useful for Williams. He was a midyear enrollee in 2020, but the pandemic wiped out most of spring practice and significantly altered preparation time leading into the season.

The 6-foot-1, 213-pounder was almost tossed into a road win at Wisconsin in December. Tuttle went into the locker room to be evaluated following a blow to the head, but he triumphantly returned to the huddle, just before Williams made it in. Tuttle separated his shoulder in the bowl game, as well, but he toughed it out, keeping Williams on the sideline.

That season nearly highlighted how essential a third-string quarterback can be, and Williams’ development this spring was a key storyline. Now, all of his reps will have to be mental.

“We’re going to continue to develop Dexter so that his understanding of what we’re doing offensively continues to grow, continues to develop,” IU offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said. “He has a great attitude and a great heart and he’s a great kid, and we expect him to come back stronger than ever.”

Given the timing of Williams’ injury, it seems highly unlikely he will be available next season, and IU does have open scholarships if it wishes to address the quarterback room.

“We have had those discussions since the injury. Don’t know exactly what we’ll do yet, for sure,” Allen said. “At the same time, it’s the same numerical value we had a year ago at that position.”

The expectation continues to be that Penix, who has twice torn his right ACL, will be ready for the start of the 2021 season. Tuttle has now started two games, as well.

Allen went on to express confidence in McCulley, who is currently playing basketball for a state finals-bound Lawrence North squad. The 6-5, 200-pounder threw for 2,576 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Wildcats’ football team in 2020, completing 70% of his passes. He also ran for another 506 yards.

McCulley will have to be ready.

“It creates the need for him to be able to come in here, ready to go, which I have full confidence he will, and I’m excited for him and the opportunity that this would create,” Allen said. “I think all three (walk-ons) do a really good job. All three (were) a part of our scrimmage and are just good, solid players who have a high care factor. They all got several reps on Saturday — quite a few reps, actually — and did some good things.”

Names and notes

A half-dozen practices into spring, Allen pointed to some players who have made a positive impression.

One was graduate transfer receiver D.J. Matthews, who could play a big role in the slot next season.

“D.J. Matthews continues to be a guy that makes plays in space, has the twitch to be able to make guys miss, get open, and do those kinds of things,” Allen said.

That’s encouraging, because the former U.S. Army All-American via Florida State could plug right in for Whop Philyor, who chose to pursue the NFL Draft. Matthews seems to have fit right in, in terms of both skill and work ethic, as he earned the program’s offensive “player of the day” award after the first spring practice.

But other names mentioned by Allen on Monday wouldn’t necessarily be top-of-mind for most fans. Allen talked about two sophomores who joined the program as walk-ons, running back Davion Ervin-Poindexter and tight end Ryan Barnes. Ervin-Poindexter is a 5-10, 190-pounder from Merrillville. He played in all eight games last season on special teams.

“(He) has been excellent in special teams drills,” Allen said, “and he’s a guy who can really do things with the ball in his hands.”

Barnes, a third-year sophomore from Noblesville, appeared in two games last season, but he was a scout team player of the week leading into Ohio State and Wisconsin.

“Kid just makes plays, he catches anything near him,” Allen said. “His blocking has improved.”

Allen was also asked specifically about the offensive line. He pointed to two players, freshman Randy Holtz and junior Luke Haggard, as players who have matured. Holtz, a 6-7, 340-pounder from Fort Wayne, is going through his first spring.

“He’s really showing some real growth that we expected him to show,” Allen said, “and he’s a big man.”

Haggard, for one, keeps getting bigger. The former junior college transfer, who came to IU at about 260 pounds, now checks in at 6-7, 291. He has starting experience at left tackle, after filling in when Caleb Jones was absent during the 2020 season.

“He’s gained quite a bit of good weight, looks really good physically,” Allen said. “We got a lot of guys we’re rotating in there right now, by design.”

(above photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

9 comments

  1. I hope this is just a terrible coincidence and nothing else. My heart breaks for this kid, who suffered this injury just as he was getting the chance to expand his command of the offense and move closer to playing time in the fall. Quarterbacks tearing their ACL “via a non-contact situation” is disturbing. They should be the last players on the field to tear an ACL! Penix’s second ACL tear happened without contact too.

    Glad to hear Williams has a good attitude, and I’m sure he’s getting lots of emotional support from his teammates, especially Penix. I hope McCulley is a very fast learner.

  2. That’s why I have said over and over again IU football has never had an abundance of top QBs….one gets injured and then another goes down…it takes high 3 or even 4 stars waiting there turn…that’s why Ramsey was so important…durable. And McCulley is at least a couple years away….if he ever will be good enough ability wise. Penix and Tuttle for next year.

  3. No team can have an abundance of “top” QBs theses days. If they don’t make first or second string by the end of Spring FB, the highest rated QB’s are in the transfer portal the day after the depth chart is revealed. How many 4 and 5-star QBs transferred from Clemson when in was announced that Trevor Lawrence won the starting job? Texas A&M lost two 5-star QBs (Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen) to transfer back in 2017. If you’re a 5-star QB coming out of HS, you’re not going to wait your turn for more than one season when you know you have a good chance of being the starter for 30 or 40 different Power-five Conference teams across the country.

    IU’s quality and depth at QB is far better than it has EVER been, and TA is committed to signing a quality QB in each recruiting class. But we have to keep them healthy. How in the hell did Williams tear an ACL in Spring practice? I just feel really bad for him, and I hope Tuttle is wrapped in bubble-wrap for the remainder of spring.

  4. Agree T.A. is trying to improve QB position…and has or it appears so but they have to stay healthy. However, Po that’s not quite accurate T.A. is just trying to get qb position to par. Yes, those are 4 and 5 star QBs and top programs also have QBs to stay . Even give Penix a 4 star the rest of pure QBs at IU are in the higher 3 star rankings. Top

    1. t, Penix is ranked as one of the top-5 QBs in the country for next season. The last time IU had a QB ranked that high, it was Randle El. And Tuttle, once an Elite 11 QB, is IU’s back-up. Plus, we have a highly gifted 4-star coming in as a freshman. I’d say IU’s stable of QBs much, much better than par. In fact, if evaluated as a group, they may be the highest or second highest rated group of QBs in the Big Ten!

      1. Little bit of delusional dreaming. Yes, by IU standards QBs room appears significantly better.
        Before injury Penix offense was getting a little bogged down at times. I still like Tuttle behind Penix. And the freshman QB is a couple years away if he can raise his ability level to a good big ten QBs even then. Use the rating system you want… 3 star at 77 per espn about the same as Tuttle 79 per espn. Tuttle offers much more impressive than McCulley. I watched McCulley a couple times on tv…not really that impressive but does look ok athletically standing still….keep on dreaming.

        1. Note: J.T. was throwing to receivers like Olave/OHIO State in California…his team had explosive offense and J.T. could throw the ball.

  5. I am sorry to hear about Williams injury, fortunately McCulley will be coming in this summer to strength the QB room. IU has some options to deal with the QB room heading into 2021. Getting a top QB in each class is important to overcome injuries like this. We will see if IU is comfortable with the QB room or if they go after a transfer.

  6. I was doing some research on IU’s walk-on QBs and was encouraged by what I discovered. None of the three are going to overtake Penix, Tuttle, Williams or McCulley, but two of them look like capable back-ups, and one of those is a preferred walk-on. And given that they’ve spent a year learning IU’s offense and are now getting a lot more practice reps, I believe they could manage IU’s offense for a game or two if necessary. It would not be ideal, but it would be better than trying to convert a freshman linebacker into a QB on a week’s notice.

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