Impressive camp helps Hale climb IU depth chart

Few jobs were safe during Indiana’s fall camp.

Just look at receiver.

On the heels of an All-Big Ten caliber sophomore season, Nick Westbrook faced tough competition from classmate Donavan Hale for first-team reps at No. 2 receiver. After a back-and-forth month of practice, it appears that Hale won out.

Hale is listed above Westbrook on Indiana’s Week 1 depth chart for No. 2 Ohio State, outplaying IU’s most productive returning receiver from last fall’s team.

The updated two-deep is more of a reflection of Hale’s emergence than it is an indictment on Westbrook. Both receivers will rotate onto the field and play meaningful snaps, especially this week if top receiver Simmie Cobbs misses any part of Thursday’s opener as punishment for his off-season arrest.

Either way, Hale’s consistent training camp gives Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow another big, athletic weapon to utilize on the outside, bolstering a receiving corps that has the potential to be among the Big Ten’s best units.

“Donavan had a tremendous fall camp and it’s all about competition here at Indiana,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “Nobody’s guaranteed a spot. Nick’s worked hard, done a lot of good things, but highly competitive at several positions. Obviously, they’re both going to play a tremendous amount.”

That could present problems for opposing defensive backs.

With Cobbs standing at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Hale at 6-4, 225 pounds and Westbrook at 6-3, 215 pounds, the Hoosiers have terrific size in their top three receivers. Throughout August, all three have demonstrated the ability to make athletic catches, giving Lagow additional room for error.

Hale is one of the best athletes on IU’s roster, a former three-star basketball prospect who was also on the radar of former men’s basketball coach Tom Crean.

Hale began his college career at quarterback, but eventually moved to receiver during his freshman season in 2014. Through Hale’s first two years with the program, the question with him has been consistency. That’s not uncommon with young receivers — Cobbs also struggled with drops as an underclassman.

Now, it appears that Hale is coming into his own. This week, IU is going to give him an opportunity to prove it.

“He’s just a freak athlete,” Lagow said. “You give him a chance to win a one-on-one battle and, most times, he’s gonna win that battle. Donavan is a guy that works really hard in the offseason to fine tune his game, because the talent has always been there for him. No one’s ever questioned that. It was just, could he do it every single day? He’s shown up with a great attitude and a great mindset.”

When Cobbs suffered a season-ending injury on his first play of the year in 2016, Westbrook stepped up admirably in his absence. Westbrook earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors last fall, finishing five yards shy of joining Cobbs as the seventh IU receiver to reach the 1,000-yard mark. All told, Westbrook posted 54 receptions, an 18.4-yard average and six touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Hale caught 13 passes for 210 yards and one score as a sophomore.

This year, it appears Hale is ready do much more.

“Donavan has really stepped up,” IU offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “He’s made great plays in training camp and he’s competed every day. He obviously deserves to be out there.”

2 comments

  1. The first point is all WR at #1 or #2 will play 30 or more plays a game based on how fast the offense is trying to go. It is good to see a younger WR step up to become one they can count on and I expect Mack and maybe Morris to establish themselves as quality WR for IU. IU should be able to wear defenses out with fresh receiver constantly in the game.

  2. Get the feeling that the only reason Hale was list first on the depth chart is because Simmie Cobbs will be suspended for the first game of the year. Now is a good time to enforce team discipline, especially with this many good wide receivers on the roster. Just a feeling.

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