Notes from IU Media Day

We’ve had all the video out, but here’s everything we got from Indiana football media day in print form.

— The first four days of practice, none of which included full pads, weren’t quite enough for IU coach Kevin Wilson to get a complete gauge of his team, but if nothing else, he can tell that they’re much stronger. The roster weights tell the tale, as the Hoosiers now boast 12 300-pounders on the team, by far the most of Wilson’s tenure. For most of the players that seems to be all good weight, and not, as Wilson puts it “sloppy” weight, and the strength gains are translating on the field.

“I see us playing on our feet a lot more, where guys are strong enough to stay up,” Wilson said and Indiana’s Media Day on Monday. “The guy with leverage wins, but when you’re playing so low you’re falling, you get all the friendly fire. It’s not the running back that gets tackled (who gets hurt), it’s getting thrown into a D-lineman, my buddy’s knee, my safety, my buddy’s knee.

“Staying on our feet shows me we’re a lot stronger, because we’re not stumbling, bumbling around and falling all over the place. There’s 22 guys flying around running, and you see some guys physical, staying on blocks, getting off blocks, and at the end of the play, there’s 22 guys that look kinda good moving around and standing up.”

It starts with front lines that appear stronger on both ends, but also continues beyond to the perimeter positions.

“Our receivers, I see guys catching the ball near the sidelines, and they’re strong enough that they’re staying in bounds,” Wilson said. “The sideline never misses a tackle. One of our gigs is that you should never run out of bounds when we’re practicing, unless we’re practicing two-minute. When we’re practicing, get used to making guys make tackles. I see guys fighting to do that.”

Said quarterbacks/wide receivers coach Kevin Johns: “Their bodies are able to sustain some of those hits and really deliver some of those blows, where before, I don’t know if they were doing that. Our offensive line, man, they’re coming off and they can move people vertically now instead of having to go sideways. Our linebackers stepping up in the whole. At every position, it just looks and feels better than the last two years.”

— Linebacker Chase Hoobler’s stress fracture in the ankle/foot region might actually keep him out for the season. Wilson said Hoobler will have surgery and could be out for four months. Hoobler lost six games last season and there is significantly more depth to absorb that.

“He’s a good kid, a fourth-year kid, good dude, good student, and you want him to do well,” Wilson said. “It’s more that you feel for Chase than all of the sudden there’s going to be some issues at ’backer. We’ll get through it in a good way.”

— Wilson said freshman running back Darryl Chestnut will not join the team until the spring semester because of academics and is in the same situation as wide receiver Taj Williams. Wilson had said the Hoosiers were hopeful that some “results” would have allowed the Hoosiers to bring him into preseason camp, but those apparently fell short. Wilson will be able to use the scholarships left open for this season to give scholarships to two walk-ons.

“Taj and Darryl, the plan will be to get their situations — and they’re very close — where they’re officially eligible where they can start in January,” Wilson said. “What I can do right now is use their space for a walk-on. When our mid-year players graduate and move on, we can replace, and in the scholarship world, they still are part of last year’s 23. We can still go sign forward. It doesn’t take an initial scholarship away.”

— Wilson continued to build up the starting offensive line, saying he believes it’s under-appreciated. Center Collin Rahrig is the only one who isn’t officially designated as a returning starter at his position because he is replacing Will Matte, but Rahrig started six games at left guard for Bernard Taylor last year and also started eight games the previous season, three of which were at center.

“He’s probably lineman three or four out there playing,” Wilson said. “He’s a good player.”

Wilson said that sophomore Jake Reed is pushing Rahrig at center. He said he needs more from backup tackles Ralston Evans, Dimitric Camiel and Pete Bachman, but that starters Jason Spriggs and Peyton Eckert have been solid so far. He said redshirt freshman Jacob Bailey and redshirt sophomore David Kaminski have pushed Bernard Taylor and Dan Feeney as starting guards and that Cody Evers has been adequate as a third stringer.

— Fifth-year senior Ted Bolser is a sure-thing starter at tight end, but Wilson said he likes what he’s seeing from sophomore Anthony Corsaro as well as three players he thinks can play either tight end or fullback in short yardage situations. That includes true freshman Danny Friend, redshirt junior Matt Zakrzewski and junior Mike Replogle. Replogle is still primarily a defensive end, but Wilson said the Hoosiers have experimented with him on offense.

— Wilson is expecting from much more from the tailback position as a whole. Fifth-year senior Stephen Houston comes into the season ranked seventh all time at Indiana in total touchdowns, but he’s never rushed for more than 802 yards at IU and this year Wilson is holding the group to a higher standard.

“We ain’t been good at tailback since we’ve been here,” Wilson said . “Coaches have nothing to do with this as much, but from 1990 until now I believe, this is the first time I’ve had two straight years without a 1,000-yard back. We’re still very average at back. And it’s not offensive line, it’s backs, too, now. Sometimes we get what we block. It ain’t taking one from 80 (yards out), but it’s taking 2 and getting 3 and 4. We need to be a lot better there.”

Wilson is still generally pleased with Houston still, but he’s very happy with what he’s seeing from sophomore Tevin Coleman, who was listed as the starter out of spring practice.

“He’s having as good a preseason four days as he did in spring,” Wilson said. “He’s very talented.”

Junior D’Angelo Roberts is still the third string tailback, but the IU coaches are very intrigued by Laray Smith, who was one of the top track sprinters in the nation as a high schooler.

“Very, very fast,” Wilson said. “It’s getting him to know which way to go and hang on to the ball, but it goes really fast. He’s hands down the fastest person who walks in this building. He can roll. He’s got some speed there, we’ll see if we can channel that into being a good player.”

— Wilson continued the praise of Duwyce Wilson, who is coming off an injury and is challenging returning starters Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn and Kofi Hughes for a starting spot. He said he also likes what he sees from Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree.

— Wilson didn’t make the quarterbacks available to the media on Monday evening. He said he’s generally pleased with all three, but wants more.

“They have all looked good, not as sharp as I want, but it’s early,” Wilson said. “Not bad by any means. We’re all doing a lot more moving around, whether it be movement throws, awkward throws, quarterback run game. We’re throwing it a lot. I like what we got. We’ll see how it plays out. We don’t have a timeline, but we’re working hard and they’re all doing well.”

— Wilson said he thinks the defensive tackle corps is extremely talented albeit inexperienced. He said it’s arguably better in terms of pure talent than last year’s line, which included Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr., both of whom were taken into NFL camps.

“Not slighting the guys that left because two of those guys went to pro camps,” Wilson said. “The guys that came in and the guys that are there, there’s more talent than has been there. It’s inexperienced. We’ll see if it plays.”

He’s happy with what he’s seen from Ralph Green, Alex Todd and Adarius Rayner, and said that defensive end Bobby Richardson has bulked up to 280 pounds and could play inside on passing downs or plays when the Hoosiers expect their opponents to run outside.

He’s generally pleased with defensive end, but still thinks they need to be more dynamic there.  He said four-star recruit Darius Latham has spent some time at end for that reason.

“We’ve got to make some plays at defensive end,” Wilson said. “We’ve got (Ryan) Phillis back. Zack Shaw has looked solid. (Nick) Mangieri has looked solid. We haven’t been bad, but we’ve gotta make some plays out there. We need some game-changing plays, some pressures some stops by harassing the quarterback and making people feel uncomfortable. It’s been a little too comfortable whether we could stop the run or get after the quarterback.

— Wilson said he needs to see the linebacking corps play much better than in the past.

“We need some step-ups there more than D-line,” Wilson said. “I don’t think our linebacker play has been high since I’ve been here. … We need some guys to play significantly better at ‘backer, run and pass. William Inge is a good coach. We’re doing a lot defensively to hopefully simplify some communication and where our eyes go to cut it loose and play fast. We’ve gotta play better there, though.”

Even with Hoobler out, the Hoosiers still return junior David Cooper, senior Griffen Dahlstrom, senior Jacarri Alexander and junior Forisse “Flo” Hardin. They add JUCO Steven Funderburk and also add several true freshman who could challenge right away. T.J. Simmons played in the spring as an early enrollee and Wilson said he likes what he sees from him as well as fellow freshmen Marcus Oliver, Clyde Newton and Khris Smith, though at 6-foot-2 and just 200 pounds, Smith appears to be a good redshirt candidate.

— Wilson discussed the move of Tim Bennett from safety back to cornerback and said he’d hope to do that in spring, but with Mark Murphy out and true freshmen Chase Dutra and Antonio Allen not yet in camp, there wasn’t enough depth at safety. He said Bennett, Ryan Thompson, Michael Hunter and Kenny Mullen should be in a competition a corner as well as, possibly, true freshman Rashard Fant. Wilson said he’s been impressed by Fant’s coverage skills, but he’s listed at 5-foot-10, 162 pounds and the weight — or lack thereof — could be an issue.

— Wilson said his push was the biggest reason Indiana moved the season opener against Indiana State to a Thursday night game to allow the Hoosiers more time to prepare for Navy on Sept. 7.

“When you play an option football team, it’s a total waste of what you do defensively,” Wilson said. “You change philosophy-wise everything you do, from a D-line perspective to a linebacker’s perspective, it doesn’t fit, so it’s seven days of waste. Those guys run it, they’re awesome. … Not slighting Indiana State, it was getting ready to play Navy. I pushed for that as hard as I could because I thought it was best for our program. That’s not a slight of Indiana State, because we saw last year what those guys and Shakir and that group can do. It wasn’t a slight of them, but playing Navy’s opener and for this team to be successful, we need to start well and do our best against those teams. … I wanted two more days.”

Wilson said he is happy that the Hoosiers get Navy out of the way early on Sept. 7 as opposed to last year when they played the Midshipmen on Oct. 20. Last season, the Hoosiers worked an option period into virtually every practice to make sure the defense would be prepared for that game. This year, they get it out of the way and won’t have to think about it after Week 3.

— Wilson agreed with Doug Mallory’s assessment that the Hoosiers could spend more time in base packages with three linebackers this season after relying heavily on nickel and dime packages the last two years. Wilson said the Hoosiers would look to match up and certainly wouldn’t abandon the nickel and dime, but said he felt more confident in his linebackers’  athleticism and ability to drop back in coverage.

“I think with guys like Flo (Hardin) who is a converted safety, Clyde Newton who is a running back playing linebacker, Khris Smith, the same kind of deal, Jacarri’s ability, I think you’ll see a little more linebackers who can play in space,” Wilson said. “In my opinion right now, the bulk of our league is still so run-oriented, we need the bodies who can stop the run. That’s still where I don’t think we hit it right.”