Westbrook back on the field: “It’s been a long time”

Nick Westbrook is getting used to the color blue.

That’s the color of Indiana’s non-contact practice jerseys, one of which Westbrook will be wearing for the duration of spring practice.

Although Westbrook’s recovery from a torn ACL is not yet complete, it’s close. So much so that the IU redshirt junior receiver can feel it.

Westbrook is active in practice for the first time since August, when he suffered his season-ending knee injury on the season-opening kickoff against Ohio State. It’s a good sign for the Hoosiers, who will lean on Westbrook to anchor what is shaping up to be a talented receiving corps inside the IU offense.

“I’m feeling pretty much like myself,” Westbrook said. “I mean, I’m not completely 100 percent yet, but I feel fast. I feel like I’m getting out of my breaks decently fast. It just feels good to be able to run and jump again, honestly.”

It’s been a frustrating six months for Westbrook, who would have been a featured piece of IU’s 2017 offense had the injury not occurred.

When former Hoosier Simmie Cobbs went down with a season-ending injury on his first play of the 2016 season, Westbrook stepped up admirably, illustrating his upside as a Big Ten playmaker.

He earned an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention nod as a sophomore, leading Indiana with 995 yards, 18.4 yards per catch and six touchdowns.

Then, eight seconds into the 2017 season, Westbrook had to be helped off the field by IU’s athletic training staff, his season lost.

“I’m really grateful for being back out here right now,” Westbrook said. “It’s been a long time just sitting and waiting and watching my brothers and teammates play. It just feels great to be back out there running around with them.”

When Westbrook says he’s running, he means it.

There are no medical restrictions on Westbrook, who made a couple nice, athletic grabs during IU’s first couple practices earlier this month.

“I’m out there playing,” he said. “They tell (my teammates) not to touch me. That’s the main thing.”

Injuries stretched Indiana’s depth at receiver last season, beginning with Westbrook’s early departure.

Not long after IU lost Westbrook, junior Donavan Hale suffered an unspecified season-ending injury and didn’t play after Week 3. Later in the campaign, J-Shun Harris suffered his third career season-ending ACL injury during an Oct. 28 loss at Maryland.

Both Hale, who received a medical redshirt, and Harris are back with the team for spring practice. For Hale, the plan is to soon ease him back onto the field. With Harris, the Hoosiers are taking it easy, given his injury history.

Right now, IU coaches are at least encouraged by having Westbrook back on the field as preparations for the fall continue.

“He’s such a great person and the players have great respect for him,” offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “When he’s out there, he’s going 100 miles per hour. He’s done a nice job catching the ball and things like that. I like where he’s at right now. We’re protecting him a bit right now and that’s going to be important.”

3 comments

  1. It would be gret to have Westbrook and Hale back for the season but Hale may need more time since his injury occurred later in the season. If Westbrook can make the improvement that a player normally makes from season to season he could be a force in the B1G. Westbrook could work on film study, learning defenses, and his hands but now is able to start working on his body to return physically to the level he showed before injury. It would be a real bonus to have Hale ready for the season adding his athletic ability to the receiving corps.

    J-shun Harris would be something just to see him on the sideline in 2018. I can’t imagine going through three ACL’s, the rehabs, and coming back to play. I don’t expect him to be on the field in 2018 but you never know what players can accomplish.

  2. Outside of the four potential starter (Luke Timian, Nick Westbrook, Donovan Hale and Whop Philyor) this is the weakest position (no depth) on the Indiana football team. I am really trying to see what Grant Heard has brought to the wide position group. Luke, Nick, J-shun and Donovan are the last of the Kevin Wilson wide receivers recruits. This is Grant Heard third year, an only Whop has shown any signs of improvement. The rest of this receiving corp is a big question mark.

    1. The biggest problem I see for the entire receiver corp is the lack of a capable QB to get the ball to them. Hopefully that essential part of the equation is on the way. Also doesn’t hurt to have an OL which can protect said QB long enough to do so. Lots of Offensive questions this year, put up time for the OC or time to go.

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