Westbrook hopes to lead big-bodied WR corps

Indiana receiver Nick Westbrook smiles as he thinks about the possibilities, placing his 6-foot-3 frame on one side of the field with a 6-4 wideout on the other.

Vertically challenged cornerbacks, beware.

That is the upside of having a partner in crime like Donavan Hale. On one sideline or the other, the Hoosiers hope to have a mismatch, a tall target ready for a jump ball. Westbrook embraces that potential because it’s a luxury IU hasn’t always had.

As a sophomore, Westbrook had a breakout campaign, earning honorable mention to the All-Big Ten squad. But another 6-4 receiver, Simmie Cobbs, was injured in his first game of the season. The next year, Cobbs went on to all-conference fame, but it was Westbrook who was shelved for the season with an injury.

Westbrook and Cobbs never had their chance to pair up versus opposing secondaries. Westbrook and Hale got a start in 2018, but it was just that.

“I can’t wait to play with such a great player on the other side of the field,” Westbrook said. “I wasn’t lucky enough for me and Simmie to play, but I get to play with Donovan. I’m really excited.”

The question is whether that excitement will last. IU has had the misfortune of injuries at the receiver position in recent years, including Whop Philyor’s prolonged absence from the slot in 2018. The year Westbrook was out, Hale ended up going down, as well, taking a medical redshirt. J-Shun Harris suffered through three ACL tears in his career.

IU has had trouble keeping its full complement of receivers on the field, and head coach Tom Allen admitted last week during Big Ten media days that receiver is a position where the Hoosiers still haven’t recruited enough bodies.

“We still don’t have … the proper number of guys on scholarship playing receiver at Indiana,” Allen said. “We just have to keep trying. We want to make sure we get the right ones. We just have to keep putting the pieces in the right spots.”

IU has 11 receivers listed on its roster, including three walk-ons. One scholarship wideout, redshirt freshman Jacolby Hewitt, is out for the season with an ACL tear. Freshman Da’Shaun Brown isn’t on campus yet, though Allen said Brown and defensive lineman Antoine Whitner are both on schedule to be eligible by the fall.

But the remaining six receivers have potential. If Hale and Westbrook can stay healthy, they are two fifth-year players with size and experience on the edges. Philyor, a 5-11 junior, can be an explosive playmaker in the slot.

The sub-6-footer Philyor is somewhat of an outlier because IU receivers coach Grant Heard likes his players tall. Redshirt freshman Miles Marshall (6-4) and true freshman Jordan Jakes (6-5) are two big bodies the Hoosiers are trying to bring along quickly.

“We just have to show these guys how it’s done,” Westbrook said, singling out Jakes. “I need him to play his first year. We need as much depth as we can at receiver. It’s something every year we struggle with, getting that depth.

“If we can get as many guys as we can up to speed and making plays, it will help us win ball games in the end.”

Westbrook expressed optimism last week that Jakes and Marshall can contribute, as well as freshman “athlete” David Ellis (6-0) as another slot type. Junior Ty Fryfogle (6-2) also returns with some experience.

On the other hand, everyone has to get on the same page, because the Hoosiers are taking in a new scheme from first-year offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer. There is also a three-way quarterback race between redshirt junior Peyton Ramsey, redshirt freshman Michael Penix (recovered from a knee injury) and redshirt freshman Jack Tuttle (transfer from Utah).

But, in Allen’s estimation, those are two good problems to have. If he has a difficult decision at quarterback, it’s hopefully because all three have enormous potential. And DeBoer had a track record at Fresno State and Eastern Michigan of improving offenses in key areas, such as third-down conversions and red zone efficiency.

Allen said this has been the most “aggressive” summer the Hoosiers have had in terms of play installation during his tenure.

“They see the system in place. They see what the system can become,” Allen said. “That’s part of their excitement.”

Westbrook has found himself mentoring Jakes, while Westbrook and Hale, who are both coming off seasons of 42 receptions and 500-plus yards, have been pushing one another in the weight room.

They want to be able to outmuscle cornerbacks on the field.

“We have very similar numbers, especially in the cleans,” Westbrook said. “I’m always trying to see what weight he’s doing, bump him by five pounds here and there. We are going back and forth. It’s definitely making us a lot better.”

How good can the Hoosiers be? When asked, Westbrook’s face brightened again.

“As we build in those first couple games and understanding how prolific we can be, gaining that confidence, I’m just really excited to see,” Westbrook said. “Sky’s the limit. We can really do anything.”

39 comments

  1. Westbrooks talks about winning jump balls but I want to see receivers get more separation from the DBs. IU has talented receivers , including the TEs, that need to get the ball at the right time to devastate defenses. Westbrook and Hale were misused last year by our OC and QB; I hope they are more effective this year with better play calling and a QB willing to push the ball up the field.

    Our receiving corps could be one of the best in the B1G but as coach Allen said the QB has to be better for the offense to reach its potential.

    1. I think Westbrook and Hale are more likely to beat teams with their size and not their speed. I’m not calling them slow but they’re certainly not burners either. They need to tighten up their route running if they’re going to get better separation.

      1. As has been mentioned, while crisp routes allow for better seperation, having your entire offense squeezed into fifteen downfield yards makes getting good seperation nearly impossible. Opposing corners probably felt like they could play another quarter at the finish.

        I’m really excited to see what the new OC has in his box of tricks. Wouldn’t it be something to see the Hoosiers come out looking like a poor man’s Oregon team during the Chip Kelly years?

        That’s asking too much, isn’t it.

    2. V13,
      I know you understand this, but the biggest statement Jon made which jumped out at me was the “misfortune” in the amount of injuries in recent years. You can’t be continually putting your receivers in situations where the defense has no fear of a pass over their heads. All they do is sit back and tee off on your receivers. Receiving in traffic is a tough enough job as it is, but if you can’t keep the defense guessing all you are going to have is more injuries to your receivers. The offense has to keep the entire defensive side of the ball in play. You can’t continually make it too easy for them by not forcing them to spread out as opposed to the usual line of scrimmage packing strategies we see utilized by B1G defenses against IU.

      1. Receiving in traffic is a tough enough job as it is, but if you can’t keep the defense guessing all you are going to have is more injuries to your receivers.

        Of course, there is a myriad of reasons for disproportionate injuries…On our basketball team, it was just considered misfortune. Football? Could also be we are just not getting the very seasoned, savvy and readied athlete that our premier conference foes(and even some non-conference opponents) recruit and develop. I’ve heard it said many times on this site; we are seemingly always catching up for lost time. We are the Big school taking a lot more 3 star guys and attempting to get them up to speed quickly to compete with the plethora of 4 and 5 star talent on the Murderer’s Row of the BigTen East.

        Going deep downfield with more regularity can also put your qb into situations of greater vulnerability. The time and physical set-up in a qb’s body(needing to plant feet and be stationary long enough to get full weight transfer) for a bomb of a throw(while only an extra second or two) can place a quarterback in much more danger. Does our line prevent lots of sacks because our qb’s never face a collapsing pocket? It’s more difficult to get sacked on quick screens and mini roll-out’s.

        Less seasoned and savvy-challenged athletes forced to make up ground(physical development along with acumen/vision on the field…along with true ‘pocket protection’ of a drop-back qb) are recipes for injuries even with the accelerated methods to get bodies transformed via S&C.

        1. Conclusion: I don’t think we can blame the amount of injuries on the lack of getting the ball downfield. I think the player injuries will likely come at higher rates with risk aversion more than the alternative.
          I do think we flirt with the darkness to injure the hopes of our already excitement-starved fan base with more of the same. e.g. Boring football and more play-calling which limits breakout momentum swings rooted in ‘safe offense’ and the risk aversion of a more defensive oriented head coach.

          The goose eggs in wins for Wilson early on in his tenure at IU were a) inexperience at head coaching, b) inheriting a very low level of talent and zero momentum after the departure of Lynch and, probably most overlooked, c) attempts at delivering an exciting product rooted more in risk-taking vs. risk aversion.

          I certainly hate seeing young kids injured. That being said, I think that it’s critical for IU administrators and coaches to understand how they have “injured” their fan base beyond what meager minimums can be achieved in some cupcake wins and bottom tier bowls.
          There should be some honest attempt to bring “breakout” football as much as “breakthrough” declarations. Getting the ball downfield is “breakout” football ….

        2. H4H,
          I don’t necessarily disagree with your assessment, but common sense tells you if the defense has little fear of the pass going beyond 20 yards very often you given them a significant advantage. Not to mention, you have put your receivers in harms way unnecessarily. There is always the risk for the receivers, but you don’t want to risk them unnecessarily.

          As for the QB being more vulnerable, it depends on how much arm strength is there. A QB with great arm strength can launch even on a short drop, ala Dan Marino, it just depends on the situation and the creativity of the OC. Also how disciplined the QB is in his pocket positioning. Makes the OL’s job a whole lot easier, especially if you are able to keep the defense sufficiently off balance.

          1. Valid points…but I still say when you’re a program forced to take either lower ranked recruits than most your conference competition, or guys slightly less physically matured (as was the case with Penix), there will likely be a higher incidence of injury.
            Simply don’t have anything approaching the upper tier overall talent found in our league(especially in terms of complete depth) and it’s going to always be an accelerated curve to “breakthrough”…”breakout”…or “just win.”
            Coaching changes also keep things in a disruptive state…making for resets and rebuilding as attempts are made to find young talent willing to risk and embrace the new additions at the helm(football and basketball).

            We’ve been pressing a lot lately in both major programs. That sort of pressing makes for thinner teams and thinner benches with quality talent top to bottom. Too many demands in practices…too many snaps in game…too many minutes on the court, etc, will all lead to a propensity for more injuries.

            Long ago, freshmen had to sit out a year in basketball(NCAA rule). It wasn’t such a bad idea. We want to turn boys into men faster and faster….I was a late bloomer in high school…I really didn’t mature into my strength matched to frame until almost finished with college. I’m sure many young athletes are the same “late bloomers”…but they are forced and pressed to make up ground. The body is simply not ready….without the force-feeding of supplements, PED’s, steroids, etc. But have ligaments been as equally challenged to take on the extra mass, muscle, and demands because someone is simply bigger on a scale?

  2. Is there going to be injury riddled vs pretty injury free and healthy? IU looks like they have a little depth (remember recent year the giddiness how much depth of receivers…in reality there was a little bit of depth). It only took a couple games and then there was no depth and lack of receivers and qbs.

    1. It does seem like there is as good of depth as ever at WR. There are some question marks though. Some of the young guys are a bit of an unknown at this point. DeBoer did have good things to say about a couple of the young guys during the spring, but we’ll have to see it to believe it.

  3. Hell with “breakthrough”….Bring us some excitement, momentum swinging plays and downfield “BREAKOUT” football!

    BREAKOUT!

  4. Let’s remember, there are often going to be three of these guys on the field at a time. While it seems like enough, if we actually have guys running deep routes occasionally (or even blocking effectively), nine or ten guys is a bare minimum.

    Tired wideouts aren’t much of a threat.

  5. Maybe TA is too honest. Maybe he needs to his “coach-speak” when talking to the press. I’m not sure it was real smart to say, “We still don’t have … the proper number of guys on scholarship playing receiver at Indiana.” I’m not sure his current receiver corps is going to feel real good about that comment. Eight scholarship receivers would appear to be more than adequate.

    I agree with comments made above. If you have a quarterback with the right arm talent, IU’s current group of receivers should be quite successful and face less risk of injury. It was so obvious what defenses were doing last year. They had zero fear of IU beating them on deep passes, so the defenses jammed the box within 12 yards of the LOS and then just unloaded on the IU receiver as he was trying to catch the dink & dunk short passes. That’s a linebacker’s dream scenario.

    I want to see IU throw deeper passes when they’re past the opponent’s 40-yard line on second and third down and short yardage. I want to see them throw on first downs when they’re inside their own 50-yard line. And I want those passes to be frozen ropes instead of floaters. As someone else said on another string, I just don’t think IU’s Strength and Conditioning staff can transform PR into a QB who can make such throws.

    1. I don’t think Allen was throwing his receivers under the bus. He was, as you noted, being realistic. Maybe the receivers room (as the lingo goes these days) will take it upon itself to prove Allen wrong. Always a fine line for a coach.

  6. Yes, that’s right. But now this roster should have all the tools necessary to make those plays, open up the offense and score more points per game. It’s just a matter of TA or KD choosing arm talent over “intangibles” and mediocre experience. And an effective offense makes playing defense much easier. Making the opponent’s offense play catch up, or making them think they have to score on every possession in order to keep pace plays right into the hands of an aggressive take-away oriented defense.

    1. You never here of a program having a turn around season with a ‘game manager’ under center.

      Without a playmaker taking snaps it will be same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

        1. I’d rather see them lose to Rutgers if it meant a victory over OSU or Michigan. I’d put up with losing by 40 pts to OSU, Michigan, MSU and PSU as long as they won 7 games. The worst thing would be another year of same old, same old. Breakthrough or break apart- just no more meaningless 3 non-conferenence wins plus Rutgers and Maryland and a whole lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda.

          1. As far as I’m concerned the past 4 seasons have been the best back to back in 25+ years. If the status quo holds for 2 additional seasons before the upturn I’ll solidly hang in.

  7. Yes PO, IU can probably do some of that against Eastern Illinois, Georgia Southern, and Ball State (but not so fast as Ball State has faired pretty well). IU should take care of Ball State this year. Everything will be going roses.
    The question is can IU do it elsewhere on the fb schedule?

  8. IU lost to Purdue for speedster David Bell. He’s going to be a matchup nightmare with Rondale Moore. I’d like to see IU move Cole Gest to slot receiver. He has the straight-line speed and strength to be a matchup problem. Plus they really don’t need him at RB unless there’s a bunch of injuries.

    1. I agree with you 123 about Gest and hope coach DeBoer does have Gest slid out to slot or in different positions to get him out in the routes stressing defenses with his speed. I think with his speed and strength he would be a R. Moore for the Hoosiers out running DBs and running over the ones he can’t beat.

      1. v I concur completely. CG is way too stout, fast in a compact package to not get chances to make plays. He also possesses that wiggle which gives LB and S trouble in the short rows of the open field. As far as IU RB in 2k19 I know everyone is keying on Scott and James. But I believe with pent up ‘want to’ after multiple seasons of injury Gest will make things happen with his opportunities.
        GO IU!

        1. I have to think Gest will have a role in the offense this season. That kid is zero to 60 in a heartbeat. I’ve mentioned before about him running with more patience. If he can just wait a split second before the hole is open, he can be a very productive back. I can’t say I remember him much as a pass catcher (I think he has 12 career catches) but he certainly fits the mold of a slot guy.

          1. No need for patience. Why hit the hole with less speed when CG’s forte is burst, quicks and top end gallop? Just get set a 1/2 yd. deeper from the LOS.

          2. HC you have a good point. I ran a off-set I when I coached with the TB set up at a depth that got him to the LOS in the right time. My best RB set up at 7 yds [he was fast 10.6 100m] but I had another set up at 8 yds [he wasn’t as fast but quicker] so he didn’t get to the block too soon, slow TB set up at 6 or less yds so they got to the hole on time. I want Gest to stay healthy and be used to his best ability as he could be a real threat for IU.

          3. I think HC has a valid point. I never coached guys at this level but I told my running backs to expect that the hole was gonna be there the instant they got there. Don’t wait on it.

            Of course…it depends on the play called.

  9. Cole Gest may catch more passes this season, but I don’t think it will be as a slot receiver. He may be coming out of the backfield where his quickness and power will be most effective. TA is probably going to use four running backs on a regular basis. I’m betting Gest is going to be one of them. Regardless, I just hope he stays healthy and has his most productive season.

    1. While I think that Cole has the frame, speed, etc., to be an effective slot man, I think you are correct. Switching a guy from running back to receiver in high school is one thing but Guest has developed a running back skill set and he is well into his college career.

      As you mentioned, he can be very valuable catching balls out of the backfield, especially if we have three other dangerous receivers on the field and the defense will have to cover him with a linebacker…if they are lucky. It could be some unlucky DE forced into the flat. That would be a mismatch.

      I envision all these offensive possibilities. I’ll be really bummed if we see the same old smash and dink.

  10. Vision…Seeing a hole open before it opens. Knowing a hole is closing before it closes. Football, whether running the ball, receiving, or being the field general at the qb position is played at a cognitive level rarely appreciated.

    We don’t fully understand what separates the truly memorable who stand the test of time. The icons of history in sport are never confined to the purely physical prerequisites. Athletes rarely get enough press for the art and intelligence taking place in every move to a bucket…or burst through a line of scrimmage.

    We remain hung up with the profiting aspects of any contest; the scores and ‘the line’ and how much or little can be gained in an exchange. We continue diminish sport to the dull basics found in dollar signs(the athlete’s perceived future or trade value becomes a worst enemy) in a constant dumbing down gravitational pull losing the intrinsic art, extremely rare creative gifts/unique intelligence/spit-second perceptions and heart central and essential for its survival.

    The dollars have certainly found the pocketbooks of the most superb athletes, but I do believe athletes remain funneled into the gravitation drain; pigeonholed by the narcissists, pundits and bookies covering the product forever “owning” the realm of intelligence and art as their own province. Within such “owning” of the analytical and distancing from the art and intelligence of those on the field regresses from the true art on the canvas; objectifying and protecting the underbelly of stereotypes and discrimination functioning under the mirage of wealth equality.

    1. I think somewhere in all that there is something I might agree with, but I sure could put an emoji to good use about now.

  11. Collecting extremely valuable art(owning, buying, trading, or gambling on the future value of the canvases) doesn’t place your hand into Leonardo da Vinci’s brush.

    At the heart of all of this (24/7 sports coverage/analysis, escalations in nationwide gambling and the online/forum/blogging obsessions) remains the narcissistic distancing from a broken ego conveniently hiding the inadequacies of never being gifted enough to create upon the canvas.

    Does that help? Probably not. I should have not digressed and simply did some sort of Gest jest.

  12. Boxing’s popularity has been waning for decades, in large part because of the athletes’ risk of injuries, long-term brain damage or death. Similar concerns have been raised about American football(courtesy: New York Times).

    Don’t know if any of you heard about this, but it’s quite tragic.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/23/sports/maxim-dadashev-dead-boxer.html
    I heard the story late last night on the radio. Very sad stuff. He was trying to bring his family to America. It should give us all a reminder of the possible consequences of “pushing” and “pressing” athletes/programs to extremes while we obsessively diet and demand with no clue or care to the toll it can take.

  13. Vision. As many visions of fairy tales dancing in the heads of armchair experts. The plays, the players, the wins, the staff, the Glass, the competition, the coach, the rock, and the fans. It works pretty well in a watered down non conference schedule. Then, the visions of a fairy tale play gets blown up by a big ten defense.

  14. I seen video of trainer stopping fight. He ask his undefeated fighter if he wanted to stop. The fighter said no ever so softly and slightly moved his head back and forth. This fighter was getting pummeled. I know it’s the sport but couldn’t the ref, dr, or someone else stopped fight a couple rounds earlier even if it is to the fighter’s dismay? Often that’s the nature of a boxer.
    Flipping thru the channels I watched a cage fighter come back from a severely bleeding cut above his eye and put opponent into submission for a win. Before the win, one time fight was stopped to check the eye and a second time because winner of fight had lost his mouth piece. Blood was everywhere on both fighters from eye cut of winner of fight. It was not classy at all and was gross. I was never and am still not a fan of this sport.

  15. I’m also not a fan of cage fighting…Never watched it. Never will. It’s an insult to the prison system. Cages should be reserved for the truly vicious. If someone believes to be a gladiator, then lock the “cage fighter” in the cage with a hungry tiger. No weapons allowed to earn your man card.

    I certainly believe in the values of learning self-defense(skills of cage fighting/kick boxing/martial arts, etc) to protect oneself or family. I don’t necessarily understand the desire to severely hurt or kill someone for the sport of it.

    Sadly, the “pummeling” a boxer receives during a career also occurs in football weekend after weekend…practice after practice. How much the brain can recover from the pounding and accept forces greater than 20 car wrecks every weekend likely varies from person to person.
    I’m not sure how much longer the money machines running the sport can irresponsibly allow young kids to turn their brains into cauliflower and broccoli stems.
    Try as we may, I don’t believe the violence can be extracted from football. And if it is extracted to the point of gridiron gladiators needing to tiptoe on every hit, it will destroy viewership …and maybe even cause more injuries.

    Lastly, I’m not an advocate of pacifying all things(see H.G. Wells “Time Machine”). Much of enjoying a short life involves choice. If you’re an adult willing to take the risks (key word being ‘adult’), I suppose freewill should be given much latitude in the pursuit of emotional balance and happiness. We’re really not here very long….One day the planet will just shake us all off like a bad case of fleas(thank you, George Carlin…3:50 mark).

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