Wilson says team is ahead of expectations

Kevin Wilson doesn’t give out praise lightly, so this means something.

Asked for his opinion of the state of his team nine days before the team’s season opener, the first-year Indiana football coach said he believes the squad is actually beyond his expectations.

“In all honesty, I think they’ve done better than I would’ve thought,” Wilson said Thursday night after the first practice of the year that was completely open to the media. “Physically, we’ve stayed healthy. We’ve worked hard. We’ve gotten I think stronger, better, I think we’re in shape. We’re learning. I’d like to see us play better from time to time, but it’s also nice in practice, I’ve seen some back and forth (between the offense and defense) in practice, which I kinda like. … I am encouraged when I’ve had some fellow coaches or friends that have been through that saw us in spring and they’re like, ‘Wow, it looks better.’”
He’s still a little nervous, he said. The Hoosiers have just over a week to prepare for their season opener against Ball State at LucasOil Stadium on Sept. 3, and he knows that everything could change when his team goes under the lights.

That said, he believes the team has gotten everything he could’ve expected from offseason workings and preseason practice to date.

“These guys have been awesome all summer,” Wilson said. “They’ve been great. I told them that tonight. I said, ‘You’ve done better this preseason than I would’ve hoped for.’ Now, can we win a game? We haven’t said anything about winning anything yet. Our goal is to be as good as we can be. I think it always helps when you work hard, and I appreciate what they’ve done because I believe they have.”

It wasn’t easy to tell exactly how far they’ve come from the press box on Thursday night, Though the team was scrimmaging 11-on-11, it wasn’t full-contact and the coaches were constantly changing down, distance and field position to create the situations they wanted their players to experience. There wasn’t much empirical evidence to say one way or the other.

But the players and coaches say they’ve seen vast improvements in execution as the preseason has progressed.

“We’re so far ahead that I can’t believe it right now,” senior linebacker Jeff Thomas said. “From the plays we put in on offense and defense, the way we’re working, the way we’re going about our business. being physical, fast, all that stuff. It’s great. The team is responding to coach Wilson. Everybody. It’s crazy. We’ve embraced the process. We’ve been here for summer, all that stuff. It’s just been great. Like I said, we’re ready to go. We want to win, we want to win now.”

There’s still a lot to get settled before that happens. The Hoosiers seem to be closing in on rotations at each position, but a few still seem to be up in the air. The quarterback position is obviously the most notable, but they’re still figuring out what to do with a talented group of running backs and wide receivers.
“There’s a fair amount (of position battling),” Wilson said. “With some of the youth with the receivers, the linemen, especially when I look at it from an offensive perspective. The defense might be a little more set. They’re going to play several D-linemen. The linebackers are pretty solid. Donnell is settled into the nickelback. The secondary for the most part is probably reasonably set. But I think on (offense), there’s probably 17 or 18 guys still in the mix.”

As for the quarterback position, that is still very much unsolved. Redshirt sophomore Edward Wright-Baker worked with the first team for the first series but classmate Dusty Kiel got the second one, and the two alternated series with the first team the rest of the way. Both had their moments, and Wright-Baker showed continued improved accuracy and touch on deep balls, which he often struggled with in the past. True freshman Tre Roberson played less than the other two and did not play with the first team, but quarterbacks coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith said that was because of a minor injury.

After expressing their disappointment last week with the production they were getting from the position, Wilson and Smith said there’s been a significant improvement this week.

“Cross your fingers, hold your breath, but I think we’re starting to see a little bit of progress,” Smith said. “They’re gaining on it so to speak. It’s not enough yet. We want them to be entrenched more, but there’s been some positive this week out of the quarterback position. Ed’s played better. He’s played consistently. Dusty’s had better days nd Dusty’s been doing well as well.”

Wilson and Smith still said they aren’t ready to name a starter, however, and Wilson said they may never do so formally, suggesting that they could use multiple quarterbacks in the season opener.

“We’re going to let that thing play out,” Wilson said. “We might go first game, if a guy goes out there first, it doesn’t mean that guy’s necessarily the starter. It just might be a guy going first. I don’t know if there will ever be an official announcement. We’ll just let it keep playing out.”

NOTE: Wilson said linebacker Chad Sherer will have knee surgery and will likely be out for the season. Sherer recoreded 25 tackles in a backup role last season.

11 comments

  1. Looks like CW’s presence and leadership is already paying off big time on a psychological level for the players.

  2. Break them down, then build them back up. Make them leaner, meaner and a cohesive unit. If you do that properly, their confidence will soar because of what they’ve achieved and endured together. Then, when adversity is confronted, having experienced it before, they are more likely to overcome it together.

  3. We may be ahead of schedule by Wilson’s standards, but that depends on where he had us starting. We could be past where he expected the team to be and still be less than halfway to where he wants us to be.

    We’ve got to remember that the other eleven teams in the conference aren’t standing idly by. They too are and have been working at improving their performance. If every team improved at the same level as us we are still on the bottom looking up. I got to hope that our improvement is double what any other team has done.

  4. Exactly! on Podunker’s point. One of the greatest jobs of coaching/teaching was when Isaiah Thomas was a freshman. He arrived in Bloomington, seen as the best high school player in the country by many and quickly showed how talented and natural he was.

    But, though he was coached by a great high school coach at Westchester St. Joe, Gene Pignatore…he also had many issues that RMK thought he needed to fix.

    Knight had higher expectations of Isaiah, than Isaiah. And it was painful. Knight insisted in breaking him down and in taking Isaiah to the point where he questioned himself. It was even apparent on the floor, and his game became hesitant filled with errors. When Isaiah could not respond to Knight’s higher demands (nor the rest of the team), Indiana went through a down period.

    In December and into the first week in January, all of a sudden Isaiah was on the bench…I think I recall at one or two point for the entire game. And at still another point, Knight sent him …for 3-4 cleanup minutes. And, IU lost a couple during this period.

    In practice Knight kept raising the bar….I remember his yelling, “I don’t want you to keep them from making good shots…I expect you to keep them from completing their passes!!…

    Very slowly, he took Isaiah and each of the players and tore them down to their essence…and just as slowly, and with even more care he put them back into intelligent, non-forgiving, consistent players they were on defense and the acutely aware, thinking players they became on offense. As he did so, he fit the parts of the machine they were.

    That is exactly the process I see and hope for with the Hoosiers, in football and in basketball. And, I see a lot of these expectations from Kevin Wilson from the I.U. players and, more important, I’m beginning to see it from the players of themselves. That is the standard that makes sports a thing of beauty.

  5. Tsao; do you remember the time, during Isaiah’s first year, when he stole the ball, ran the length of the court and went up for a slam dunk….and missed it? The ball bounced half way back up court, resulting in an easy bucket for the opposing team. Knight immediately pulled Isaiah from the game and sat him for the duration. Knight had told Isaiah that he preferred he not dunk. When Isaiah protested, Knight told him he could slam dunk until he missed one, and then he’d be done with slam dunks. Well, a few games into his first year, Isaiah missed his first dunk. He never attempted another dunk until his rookie year with the Pistons.

  6. Yepp!! I sure do. Teaching moments that come once and they are learned or life runs over you. I still believe if it took sacrificing one game to teach an important point, Knight (or any other teacher worth his salt) would do it. By the way, I remember professors would ask (and be granted) admission to his practices just to observe his teaching. Many considered him the finest teacher on the campus.

  7. I know little about Isaiah’s character today. By the time he left he had learned to play for ‘the team’…I would imagine several years in the NBA can pollute anyone’s veins. My comment, however, was addressed to the values and standards Coach Knight taught and held for many former Hoosiers. And, the fact that academic integrity and a work ethic were not only demanded, but expected.

    I’ve agreed on several comments Chet has made about the contradiction with some of his own behavior; nevertheless, his contribution as a coach, teacher and mentor still stands and will stand as a strong foundation for the name Hoosier. Just as much as Jefferson’s and his ideals of liberty are not washed away from his economic activities and Lincoln’s greatness is not wiped away by his contradictory thoughts on the subject of equality and race.

    And no, I’m not saying RMK’s contribution is at the level of Jefferson’s or Lincoln’s (just to preempt those who will write in questioning the statement)…but Bob Knight was clearly part of the debate regarding values and discipline of the last five decades.

  8. Oh, I think, by and large, he helped develop those young men into quality adults. Ironically, I doubt that he would have ever tolerated the behaviors he sometimes demonstrated if it were another person’s antics, instead of his own.

  9. Chet, we agree. And, most of the young men grew up to be exemplary and successful adults and have made a point of crediting his ‘tough love’ for the results.

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