IU focused on generating acceleration this offseason

David Ballou had concerns.

Entering his first offseason as Indiana’s strength and conditioning coach in 2018, Ballou saw a Big Ten program that needed help. The Hoosiers weren’t powerful enough in the weight room. They weren’t fast enough on the field and, perhaps as much as anything, they weren’t as complete as they needed to be, both in terms of output and approach.

In a year’s time, things have changed.

Ballou believes the Hoosiers have used the current offseason — and the past year — to take the next step as a program and build upon the foundation he and athletic performance coach Dr. Matt Rhea laid last winter.

“A year ago, I’m not going to lie to you, I had some concerns about where we were at and how far we had to go and the timeframe we had to do it in, so you felt like you were kind of trying to rush things,” Ballou said. “… But when you look at, conceptually, overall, the numbers and the data we track over time, we’re in a much better position today than we were a year ago standing here. And that should be the case after being a year in the program.”

For years, those at Indiana have been eager to broadcast their belief that the football program has used the offseason to get bigger, faster and stronger. Optimism is nothing new at Memorial Stadium.

But with Ballou leading IU’s offseason workout programs, Indiana’s approach has been entirely unlike any the program has used before. Ballou and Rhea have tailored workout regimens to individual players and specific positions. They’ve taken a progressive approach to using and analyzing data to measure gains and identify areas of improvement.

They’ve also watched hours of film from last season to identify skills and attributes they need to build this offseason.

No two offseason programs should be the same, Ballou said, and priority No. 1 for this year’s program?

Generating better acceleration.

“We have an acceleration need,” Ballou said. “Acceleration really is football. You can view the statistics, anywhere from 70-75 percent of the game is played in a 20-yard box. It’s played in a 20-yard box. We talk about some of these top seeds and how fast guys are and this and that, and that’s great. But if they spend 75 percent of the game and never even get to that top speed because they’re not running far enough, acceleration’s a big deal.”

Ballou says he and Rhea have tools that they use to measure acceleration in 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-yard increments, and the focus this offseason has been generating situational speed inside those 20-yard increments.

“I want to know in five yards, how much power they’re putting out per leg and how many meters per second they’re moving from a speed perspective,” Ballou said. “And then 10 yards, and then 15 yards and then 20 yards.

“So our guys, they’re ranked by position after five yards, after 10 yards, after 15, after 20 and I’m telling you it’s not the same. You have guys, it takes them longer to get up to top speed. They can get up to top speed if you give them far enough to go and they’ll throw a nice number up there, but in reality, on the football field it takes them too long to get up there so you’ve got to fix that. There are specific things you can do to fix that and we are doing them. We’ve put those in and we’ve been heavily involved.”

With Indiana’s spring practice season set to begin on Saturday, Ballou and the Hoosiers will soon get a glimpse at exactly how their offseason gains may manifest on the field.

A year after installing his winter workout program, Ballou likes the steps Indiana’s players have followed inside of it.

“We feel good about where we’re at right now,” Ballou said. “Never going to feel great about anything, but we feel like we’re headed in the right direction. Feel good about the work ethic, for sure.”

28 comments

  1. I wonder why acceleration wasn’t the focus last year instead of top straight line speed. We were led to believe last year top speed was the panacea needed for IUFB.

    1. I don’t remember either strength and conditioning coach saying “top speed” is the panacea! You must focus your training, individualize it, and constantly improve it. There is no finish line. It is a process. You want simple answers, but there aren’t any.

    1. Here’s my picks for the next couple years- Mass Force Generation- “our lineman need to convert bipedal mass into power in a hazardous confined space while our receivers/ defensive backs flip inertia into centimeter/deci-second speed on both natural and artificial terrains.” 2021: Acceleration Matrix- Lineman generate torque in micro mile bursts while skill positions need to maintain maximum speed force in a repetitive regenerative environment.” I think it boils down to they are lifting weights and running sprints.

    2. 79,
      You need to broaden your perspective a little bit, Knute Rockne made frequent use of dancing training his teams. Can’t argue with the results he got either.

  2. Zoom. Gotta have something going on. Gotta have something to write or talk about. Been that way in every coaching era.

  3. Before everyone gets too carried away about this, let’s stop and consider something. When you are transitioning anything in life there is usually a process. How the process is determined will be based on what you are trying to transition. Last year was the first year into the new S&C program and if I am understanding what they are doing correctly, the focus was on what they considered the highest priority for the entire team. As time goes on and more team members are entering the S&C program from the beginning of their IU tenure, I would guess there will not be such a team wide focus in this manner on various segments of the overall S&C program.

    1. tai Don’t believe I’m being critical. Just observing the transition from 1 year to year 2 generates my Qs. S&C folks are communicators as they must be working with young people but if it is a process(I believe it is)why was that not rightfully noted in this article. I think those Qs if asked would have had answers to complete the article. I’m not claiming a ‘pig in a poke’ sell job.

      1. HC,
        I am only looking between the lines for a logic to their approach. As for why this wasn’t mentioned in the article, I would suspect this to be on Mike to clarify. I could be totally off base, but it seems quite reasonable to believe converting the entire team’s S&C regiment to the new approach would be a process. I’m with you, seeing is believing in this matter, but one or two years does not the finished product make. We should progressively see signs of improvement, but not sure of what we should be seeing at this point.

  4. When I watch Nelson, the rookie All-Pro lineman for the Colts, he doesn’t seem faster than other lineman. He’s just a heck of a lot more powerful. Seems like our offensive line has trouble moving guys and our defensive line gets pushed around. Call it whatever you want, they need to get bigger and stronger.

    1. H86,
      I agree they need to get bigger and stronger, but when recruiting wise you are not able to get more refined personnel as the top schools do, you have to think outside the box. There is an old adage, “Getting there firstest with the mostest.” If you don’t have the “mostest,” then try to get their “firstest!” For linemen, you may not have enough mass to move the opponent, but if you acceleration is quicker you may be able to move them for just a moment. A moment is all that is needed for a decent running back to get beyond the LOS.

      1. In high school, our OLine took one-yard splits and the idea was that an OLineman didn’t have to move anybody, just make the block stick and the back gets through that gap. Obviously, that battle usually goes to the bigger and stronger. Now it’s zone blocking where the first defender is often hit just enough to slow him down and then the OLineman releases to the deeper level. So, yeah, bigger and stronger is indeed generally better than smaller and weaker, but in today’s game the victory can go to the swiftest. Of course, biggest, strongest, and fastest is hard to argue with!

  5. Does any of this sound familiar? https://iuhoosiers.com/news/2018/6/29/football-diprimio-notebook-new-strength-coaches-amaze-the-hoosiers.aspx

    Prior to the beginning of preseason camp a great deal was made about both the strength and speed improvements of the team. Dr. Rhea’s techniques were revolutionary with regards to speed training. Many of the articles I read made it sound like the improvement in speed made by the team I was expecting to see a bunch of Usain Bolt like performances. The expectation was that our players would be faster than our opponents, and that once our backs or receivers got in the clear the only thing the defenders would see were the soles of their shoes as they streaked into the endzone.

    Improvement in speed may have occurred, but our players were no faster than our opponents.

    I perused several Big Ten and SEC team boards looking for articles about S&C, and I found none. IU seems like the only P5 team that continually mentions its cutting edge S&C techniques, but routinely gets out muscled, out quicked, out raced, and most glaringly out scored.

    Forgive me for being the skeptic, but until there are concrete results that IU’s innovative S&C is superior to any other P5 team my opinion will remain the same, and that is we are no better or worse than that of our competition.

    1. SOSD,
      Not so sure you can say they got outperformed in the manner you state last year. True, they couldn’t go toe to toe with everyone in the B1G, but other than Iowa and the final score 7 times, they were respectable on the field. Biggest problem was not so much overall team physically as it was the absence of a QB with a much stronger arm. Wouldn’t recommend looking at B1G for reports yet, look at Notre Dame. At this point SEC or Clemson probably doesn’t see need as they are used to getting top recruits. FB is a copycat sport, got to see someone with success before adopted. Only have ND & IU at this point. Even though ND got shoved around in the BCS, it made a difference in their regular season after implementing. Check their boards, should be a great deal of conversation, especially 1-2 years ago.

      1. I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm with these reports. The one thing I understand is that any good S&C program should be able to add strength, and good weight to it’s players every year. I adhere to the adage that if a player is not getting better, they are getting worse. A player cannot continue to perform at the same level as they did in the previous season. If they do that indicates that others are catching up or may have even passed them.

        I have a nephew who is the assistant strength and conditioning coach for a team that plays in Conference USA. I speak with him often about training, as I suffer from severe impingement syndrome in both shoulders, a result of having played hockey from the time I was 4 until I was 37. I’m now 59 and I’m trying to maintain some semblance of muscle, but I am restricted from performing much of the weight training I did even five years ago. Anyway, my nephew and I discuss new techniques that he has learned by attending S&C conferences. At these conferences a great deal is shared between S&C coaches and trainers, so any new technique has generally been discussed. He indicated that all programs employ some sort of performance improving techniques/strategies in their S&C programs to improve a players speed, agility, quickness, etc. So what IU is doing is nothing different than what others do, they are just employing a different method.

        He also said that most programs attempt to put as much good weight on a player as possible until they lose some speed. They are constantly looking to find the optimum level of speed and weight for each player. It’s a never ending quest to get the most out of each individual player.

    2. Ditto. I can’t imagine that IUFB has come up with some top-secret science that isn’t in the public domain.

      1. Davis,
        I agree we should all have a healthy amount of skepticism regarding the S&C program, but one thing I’ve learned is the old cliche, “never say never.” Is it possible for innovation to occur in the most unlikely places? Yes. Is it likely at IUFB? No.

        That being said, it is not impossible for IUFB to be on the cutting edge of innovation. Remember this, IU is not first place this approach has been tried. They’ve been developing this approach for a number of years and the first run through began two or three years ago at Notre Dame. I don’t believe the program can turn 3 stars into 5, but maybe a 3 into a 4 or somewhere in between if successful. Why not try it fully? Not exactly like IUFB has a whole lot to lose from a historical perspective.

          1. I agree HC, but I sure would like to see a whole lot more 3 & 4 stars if possible to build up. Not saying can’t make something special out of a 2*, but it is a lot shorter path for a 3 or 4*. Main goal is to get to 5* levels and have a reputation of building them up even higher.

  6. Pushing the S&C program is a way for IU to compete for better players looking to improve. IU was behind the eight ball with many players on the team and it takes time to change bodies and speed. The emphasis on speed was confusing for people that don’t investigate information for themselves. For example Usian Bolt when measured in MPH runs at 27 MPH and top sprinters hit close to 26 MPH. So moving players up to 20 MPH and higher has to be put in perspective along with putting where they were [ 17MPH ] in perspective.

    Looking at roster weights https://iuhoosiers.com/roster.aspx?path=football it is clear the players are improving in the weight room. Complaints here are about the wins and loses instead of looking at what is being accomplished by selling the program.

    Football often takes three years to see major improvements. Fleck took a 9-4 program that was winning 8 games or more in 3 out of 4 seasons to 5-7 and 7-6. Fleck had his whole staff from WMU go with him and he still hasn’t reached the previous level of winning yet. We will find out if the changes coach Allen has brought to the program brings improvement in 2019 despite a tougher schedule.

  7. Sorry for my obsession regarding Hoosier Scoop photos from Chris Howell, but the above selection is another gem. Here you have the extremely buff trainer in the background(bald and sculpted guy bubbling over in testosterone busting out of his black t-shirt as if Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first inspiration in a 1964 Musclebound magazine)…And then you have what is presented in the foreground in similar focus? In the foreground is the Leaning Tower of Pisa; a stick figure of a Hoosier appearing to be near the point of toppling over….

    Another fabulous metaphor for Hoosier Football captured in image: Brutus & The Leaning Tower. “Hold him up, Brutus! Hold him up!”

  8. Genetic testing will be the future….There will be genes located and manipulated. Recruits will be located based on the mixes of things in genes promoting fast muscle healing, recovery, boost, growth…
    DNA will be sought from potential athletes at very young ages. It will all end up being a freak show. All mystery of the late bloomer…or the unmatched heart(courage/drive) outweighing all the limitations of bodies manipulated and juiced will be lost to the obsessions of science and creation. And in the quest to create the perfect athlete will be lost the bandaged up knees of Namath, the personalities….the multitude of those rare specimens who have defied the odds while looking out of place amongst the sculpted and the perfectly fed cows and pigs…and 10 lb. chickens(still ‘organic’ and ‘free range,’ of course) with just the right amounts of muscle meets fat and size. Your DNA dinner is served.

    1. Nature takes its course.

      I’m about 5’9″ and I was a marginal D1 athlete. My wife is about 6′ and was a good college swimmer.

      My daughter is a little over 6’1″ and was a respectable D1 hurdler and heptathlete. My son in law is 6’7″ and his dad was a tennis pro.

      My first grandchild is a less hairy Sasquatch. The kid is huge.

      My kids gravitate toward other athletic people. I think nature takes its course. Athletes generally date other athletes.

  9. V13- your 3 year yardstick seems a little arbitrary. UCF went from worst to first in year 2. Purdue went from worst in B1G to respectable in a year. Kevin Wilson went from terrible to mediocre by year 5. I agree the team could improve this year and the record not show it. I’m hoping better play calling and better quarterback play (Penix or Tuttle) will get them to 6 wins. As far as the S&C program being a selling point, maybe but I’d want to look at actual player development and wins and losses over whatever the latest metrics the S&C coaches are selling. We all remember the ‘great strides’ in arm strength Ramsey was supposed to have made going into last season. All S&C programs tout amazing improvements in February.

    1. H86,
      Stop and think about what both UCF and PU had in common? Both had competent QB play. I very plain terms, that means they could stretch the field at will. I would contend the only difference between IU under TA in the 1st or 2nd year is the one thing IU didn’t have, a QB who had enough arm strength to keep defenses out of 8,9, or 10 men in the box. It is just that simple.

      Defense was ragged last year, but that was expected coming in with all the graduations. The offense need to put up more points to compensate for the inexperienced defense, that didn’t happen. Anyone with any small amount of FB understanding could see the opposing defense with every defender close to the LOS. That tells you all you need to know, they know your QB can’t beat them deep. Without the deep passing threat your options are slim and none at that point.

      The bright side is IUFB appears to have two capable QBs in the fold now with Penix and Tuttle.

  10. When did Ballou and Rhea start working for IU? I would suggest that with a limited amount of time last year, and realizing IU’s S&C program was behind the curve, Rhea and Ballou did what they could to make up ground as fast as possible. Was progress made from 2017 to 2018? Yes, I believe it was. Should we expect greater progress this year? Yes, because they’ve had the time to roll out their entire program and learn more about each athlete. But the bottom line is that IU must continue to recruit bigger, stronger, and faster players. I don’t believe Ballou’s S&C program is going to make IU’s 3-star players better than OSU’s 5-star players. Because it’s not like OSU, MI, PSU and other top Big Ten teams don’t have excellent S&C programs too. S&C programs can only take you as far as your genetics will allow you to go.

  11. Oh boy! Everyone blows IU football top secret. Now all of big ten knows and will develop their own programs in many cases with higher rated star players. Fred MacMurray, “The Absent Minded Professor” and “Son of Flubber” fame may be able to save the day. I loved those movies. Especially “The Absent Minded Professor.” Only if Ned Brainard were on the IU basketball staff. He could bring Betsy Carlisle (Nancy Olsen) along as well for the IU ladies. Now, that would make Fred Glass look innovative.

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