Cronk taking O-line under his wing

It wasn’t so long ago that Coy Cronk was an undersized freshman trying to swim in the deep end of offensive line play at the Division I level.

Fortunately for Cronk, he had a life preserver by the name of Dan Feeney.

“I was kind of spinning,” Cronk said. “I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends, because most of my friends were either redshirting or on the scout team, and everyone else was older than me.

“For some reason, I don’t know why Dan did it, still don’t know to this day, but he took me under his wing. We’d go get dinner every night, he’d watch extra film with me and he’d just have talks with me. ‘Hey, this is what you’re doing wrong, here’s what I expect, here’s what it’s like. If you want to be great, here’s how you’re going to do things.’”

Cronk wound up starting all 13 games at left tackle as a freshman inn 2016, an Indiana record for an offensive lineman, and has now started 36 of a possible 37 games in his career. He has a chance this season to surpass both Feeney (46), now with the San Diego Chargers, and the man he replaced at left tackle, Jason Spriggs (47) of the Green Bay Packers, for career starts.

But what Cronk really wants to do heading into his senior season is pay forward the mentorship once given to him.

“If you think about it, I was 18, (Dan) was 23. He’s a two-time All-American at that point,” the 6-foot-5, 325-pound left tackle said. “He really didn’t owe me anything, and I was awe struck of him. He’s a larger than life personality, and he took me under this wing. I’ll never forget that.

“So I’ve been trying to do that (myself), but I don’t think I do it as well as Dan did for me.”

One of Cronk’s recent charges stands to start on the other end of the Hoosiers’ offensive line in 2019 — 6-8, 358-pound redshirt sophomore Caleb Jones out of Lawrence North.

Jones is penciled in as the starter at right tackle heading into fall camp, 12 pounds lighter than he was two years ago, and Cronk couldn’t be more proud.

“He was a little heavier than he needed to be. He would lose weight throughout the week and gain weight on the weekends,” Cronk said. “That cycle was kind of holding him back from being a good football player. (We had) a couple talks here and there, but mostly it was just him. He kind of found that drive, and he’s keeping the weight off. He’s working hard in the weight room, I lift with him every day. I’m really happy with where he’s come from.”

Proof came during spring practice.

An interception by the defense was being returned toward the end zone for what looked to be an easy touchdown.

Not so fast.

“There’s (offensive linemen) Caleb Jones and Coy Cronk, side by side, chasing the person down,” fifth-year senior linebacker Reakwon Jones recalled. “Stuff like that’s motivating. That’s how I know that (Caleb) wants to be great.”

Greatness is an expectation for the offensive line at Indiana, which now has Wes Martin (Washington) and Brandon Knight (Dallas) in the NFL along with Rodger Saffold (Tennesee), Spriggs and Feeney.

“The standard’s there. It was there before I got there,” Cronk said. “Rodger Saffold, he just signed a third contract for a lot of money, then Jason (Spriggs) and Dan (Feeney) and all those guys, so the standard was there when I walked into the room. There was, I wouldn’t say a pressure or a burden, but the expectation that I will uphold it.

“Bottom line, I have to look myself in the eyes and say I did the best I could do, then not only what I can do, but what I can do to help the other four offensive linemen, then after that the two-deep, then the three-deep, then even the walk-on guys. I think there’s just a pride when you walk in the room there that you’re expected to produce, you’re expected to be a unit.”

It’s a vibe that even the newest Hoosiers already understand.

“Everybody here is driven,” said freshman Matthew Bedford, who was an early enrollee in January. “That was one thing when I got here, just being an O-lineman that there was a standard, that you’re going to produce, that you’re going to be able to make plays. That was the main thing. That hasn’t changed, especially with my class, guys want to compete, want to produce.”

Bedford, a 6-6, 307-pounder out of Cordova, Tenn., projects as tackle, and perhaps as much as anyone sees Cronk as his Dan Feeney.

“The guy is real smooth as an offensive tackle. His technique is amazing,” Bedford says of Cronk. “When we’re in practice, I’m sitting there watching him, taking in everything — everything that he says, everything that he does. In the weight room, I’m trying to match his weight, which is a challenge. I just take everything he does and try to bring it to myself to do it.”

But it was Cronk who sought out Bedford first.

“I was the potential he had, but he kept making the same mistakes over and over, and it wasn’t footwork, it was just simple things I felt I could explain easily to him,” the senior said. “I was like, ‘Dude.’ and at this point it was probably on three practices in, but in my head it was forever.

“I don’t even know if he was 18 yet, but he’s probably thinking, ‘Holy cow, here I am playing Division I football,’ and his mind was probably racing. I don’t think we were in the same mind frame there, but it was driving me nuts.”

So Cronk took Bedford aside and drew up the play on the white board.

“I’m like, ‘Did you write that down?’” Cronk said. “He’s like, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I’m going to draw this up again. If you don’t have it written down, we’re going to have problems.’ That kind of build our relationship, and now he seeks me out and has done a great job.”

Cronk shares the mentorship role with fellow offensive line seniors Hunter Littlejohn and Simon Stepaniak. Whether they realize it or not, it’s working.

“It’s a whole lot of mental stuff,” Bedford said. “They really beat it in our brains what we’re doing to develop, and that we’re going to go hard and be able to produce. That’s one thing Simon and Coy and Hunter have beaten into each position.

“You’re going to get this down, and if you don’t, you’re not going to play, and everybody wants to play.”

Everybody also needs some positive reinforcement.

“There is a right way to do things, there is a wrong way to do things, and if you are doing it the wrong way, I don’t have a problem letting people know ‘Hey, that’s not it,’” he said. “And then when you are doing the right things, I probably need to do a better job saying ‘Hey, good job.’ That doesn’t come out of my mouth too often. It probably should.”

In some ways, it’s no easier being a senior mentor than it was a freshman being mentored, as Cronk is finding out.

“It is nuts. You really don’t think this time’s going to go by, and then you wake up and you’re a senior in a leadership role,” Cronk said.

But if he is even a fraction as successful as Feeney, it bodes well for the future of the IU offensive line.

“I try to do my best to answer their questions, board talk and stuff, but some days I don’t get through to them,” Cronk said. “Some days they leave more confused than when they walked in, because I over-explained it. Finding that balance is tough, and I never really felt like Feeney struggled with that balance with me. I feel like everything he did made sense to me, so finding the right medium to communicate for me has been a challenge. I do try to go above and beyond.”


  1. One good change coach Allen has made this off-season is working and developing older players on how to be a leader on the team. It was reported that Cronk had a tendency to be negative to his teammates [he alludes to it himself] and coaches have worked to make the leaders more positive yet still work on not letting small things slide. Maybe all these changes in the past couple years will lead to a winning season this year.

  2. I agree BP. You’re right. And this article demonstrates how the players are taking ownership of the team’s performance. Great stuff.

    1. H4H good looking helmet if the mirror is gone. I like the crimson helmet with the IU or the state flag symbol.

  3. Still like the idea of mirrors to see a chasing rusher after the qb ..or d-back attempting to catch a receiver.
    Could be a little awkward with multiple helmet mirrors bumping and clanging into each other in the huddle. They should definitely be designed as fold-down mirrors.

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