Notes from camp: Cronk practicing at guard, RBs catching on

Indiana’s offensive line looked just a little bit different Tuesday.

Senior Coy Cronk, who has started at left tackle since freshman year, was working at left guard. IU’s massive right tackle, redshirt sophomore Caleb Jones, was standing to the opposite of his usual side, just to the left of Cronk.

That’s not the offensive line as it should look Aug. 31 versus Ball State, but it’s a necessary bit of rejiggering. IU line coach Darren Hiller knows his five best guys: Cronk and Jones at their respective tackle spots, junior Harry Crider and senior Simon Stepaniak at guard, and senior Hunter Littlejohn at center. But if one of those five have to miss a snap, or snaps, the solution isn’t quite as simple as throwing the backup in at that exact spot. 

“At the end of the day, we are going to go put the guys we feel are the best five guys out there,” Hiller said. “It doesn’t always mean take your sixth guy and put him at a position. You may have to slide a guy over and put him in another spot, whatever that is. We are always playing with those ideas.”

Heading into the 2019 season, the Hoosiers feel pretty good about their starting five, especially the seniors Littlejohn, Stepaniak, and Cronk. But depth past the starters was listed among head coach Tom Allen’s chief worries going into fall camp.

Moving linemen around, just for a couple of days in camp, allows for some different combinations to be tested out — in case of emergency. Cronk, in particular, has never played guard. Not even in high school. But it’s part of the process as the Hoosiers look to maximize their reserves.

“Today was really the first time we did it,” Cronk said. “I think it turned out alright, but those are the first reps at guard I’ve ever taken. That’s the first reps Harry’s had at center since freshman year. … It’s really not an easy process.”

It’s not immediately clear where the non-starters are in Hiller’s pecking order, but a few names have been mentioned throughout camp. Freshman tackle Matthew Bedford, it appears, will not redshirt and should contribute immediately with his 6-foot-6, 307-pound frame. IU has a couple of veteran backups on the roster, including fifth-year senior tackle DaVondre Love and redshirt junior guard Mackenzie Nworah (who started six games as a freshman but battled injuries as a sophomore).

Redshirt freshman Charlie O’Connor (6-2, 308) has been handling second-team reps at center, and Allen has specifically mentioned redshirt freshman tackle Aidan Rafferty (6-6, 316) as someone who has improved.

“We’ve got an idea of who that sixth and seventh guy is going to be but we feel like we’ve got some good competition for that eighth, ninth spot,” Hiller said. “I don’t know if we’ll roll 10 guys in there or not, just depends if guys keep growing and getting better.

“But I do feel a lot more comfortable today than I did leading into camp. We knew the summer was going to be big.”

And as the Hoosiers look to get deeper, they also want their top guys to be more versatile.

If the situation calls for it, Cronk is learning how to slide inside. At the very least, the 325-pounder is in a better position to play guard than he was as a 260-pound freshman.

“There’s less space to work with, blocking heavier guys,” Cronk said of his first-ever reps at guard. “It’s not too crazy different. Just the body types are different.”

DeBoer studies his own

The last time offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer spoke to the media a week ago, the Hoosiers were expanding the playbook, working out the kinks with some new looks.

On Tuesday, DeBoer emphasized that his unit has come along well. Now it’s DeBoer that’s doing a bit of learning.

He is working to study his own players, seeing what they can do when they are put in specific situations. He needs to know who can do what as he’s debating play calls in the coming weeks.

“One of the things I’ve been focusing on the last couple of days has been the running back position,” DeBoer said. “Who is the best at catching the ball out of the backfield? Who is really the guy I want to count on, who can bobble and win versus man-to-man when he has a linebacker on him, and it’s crunch time?

“You don’t want to have tendencies that are super strong, but there comes a point where you gotta have a play.”

With the running backs, DeBoer pointed to redshirt junior Cole Gest and sophomore Ronnie Walker for their hands.

“A lot of it is what he does with it afterward if you get him out in space,” DeBoer said of Gest. He added that Walker has done a “phenomenal job” catching the ball.

On the other hand, DeBoer is challenging sophomore workhorse Stevie Scott and freshman Sampson James to improve as pass-catchers.

“We can’t have them just coming in and out, and you become pretty predictable if guys are one-dimensional,” DeBoer said.

40 comments

    1. Not the sort of detail for the general public. Sure you have to plan for all sorts of scenarios, many of them negative. But keep it in house.

  1. The OL has been a concern. I know a lot of people are comparing the size of our OL to Wisconsin’s. The issue I have with that comparison is equating size to performance. If our OL performs at the same level as Wisconsin’s that’s a great, but if there is little to no improvement in performance than all we have is a group of very large linemen who are still unable to control the line of scrimmage. In just about every test when the IU OL went against one of the better DL’s in the conference they got dominated. I’ll be happy if they can achieve a stalemate this year, that would indicate improvement.

    1. The offense determines and controls the play calling, the defense must react. Our new OC will spike up the uncertainty with new tendencies and aggression. Let the games begin!

  2. Switching OL around in practice is something all college teams do getting ready for the season. It is a mainstay in the NFL as they are limited in the # of OL players and need them to be capable of playing more than one spot. Feeney had half his plays last game at center as San Diego prepares for the season. This offensive practice is a good thing not a troubling thing.

    The more I listen to coach DeBoer the better I feel about IU’s offense. He is looking at players not just formations to determine the best course for the offense. IU has some very good players for coach to take advantage of opposing defenses.

    1. v I couldn’t agree more. Even in good HS programs it would be a generic action moving OL participants around during practice. It’s called preparation.

  3. Thanks SOSD. Interesting article and again man and society; the whole process not keeping things in perspective. This is just talking about one cost; recruiting. I thought higher education first goal was student education (though the few athletes that become pros). Of course know immediate worry if athletics become debt ridden…just raise the cost for students to go to college across the board. Then, when students can’t afford to go….give them more loans. Then, when student alumni can’t afford to pay off loans create a government loan forgiveness program. Then, continue more money process all over again until it all eventually crashes. It seems a level playing field would be NCAA communistically dictate a rule that each college would get the same amount of money that could go into recruiting creating an equal playing field in area of recruiting. This is just one area lack of/no perspective regarding expense and cost at the expense of who, what, why, where, when….The list is huge and long.
    PO. It is not envy as you noted earlier regarding the subject of salaries. Rather an observation regarding the scales justice vs injustice which is a picture of society and its physical condition.

  4. Doesn’t seem to make any sense to have Cronk practicing at guard. That’s not the kind of information IU should be sharing with the media.

    My guess is that IU’s O line is big and strong enough, but I question whether they’re quick enough. You’ve got Big Ten D-linemen weighing 310 lbs. who are cat-quick and can run the 40 in 4.8 seconds.

    Good article, V13. Since Archie is getting most of his talent from within the state of Indiana these days, maybe Fred Glass could shift some of the dollars in the BB recruiting budget to the FB program so that TA can expand the net and start recruiting nationally.

    1. What the article tells you is that IU’s best depth is at tackle, rather than inside, so that’s where 6 and 7 would go. That means Cronk slides over one spot and Jones flips from right to left, allowing #6 to go to RT (probably Bedford and then Rafferty, from everything I’ve heard, which is concerning). It also gives a big clue as to who’s leading the quarterback derby.

      1. BD,
        Your big clue point to something I ran across earlier. Time will tell if it bears out to be true.

  5. V. Good points. That crossed my mind as well and now is the time for future planning and situations to see what you got.

    1. The only thing confirmed but long suspected is that the OL is a position group of great uncertainty. Talent and depth are modest, so avoiding injuries is a must. Have also heard that KD is harping on getting the ball out quick so that protections aren’t as vulnerable, but it’s going to be a unit that bears watching and worrying.

      1. BD,
        I think some information may be starting to leak out. Not enough confirmation to say for sure, but I have a feeling an announcement may be soon coming. Could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

    1. I don’t know which got more reps but it was clear Penix and Ramsey are the top two with Penix working with the #1 offense first in practice.

      1. BREAKING NEWS: CAPTCHA will start at quarterback….Solid character guy. Just a bit of my input.

  6. I’m not concerned (yet) about the article. Bedford may be too good to keep off the field. He’s supposedly very athletic which is needed for a left tackle. Moving Kronk would free up the spot for Bedford. Kronk may also be looking to switch to guard to be a better fit for the NFL. I’m surprised they are trying Caleb Jones at left tackle. Jones was too slow during the spring game to pick up Madison Norris who easily went around him for a sack.

    1. Bedford is probably the #6 OL, so he’ll get on field unless injuries don’t occur. As much as they like him, his position is an indicator of the state of the OL. Jones is one of the 5 best OL, so he’ll flip to the other side if anyone goes down. Cronk wouldn’t move over to position him for the NFL. This is about putting the 5 best guys on the field.

      1. Remember Jason Spriggs? A long 6’7″ guy who could move like a tight end? That’s what the NFL wants in a left tackle. Cronk is a stubby 6’4″ with shorter arms. He’ll play inside in the NFL.

        1. He might get moved for that reason in the NFL, but it would have nothing to do with why he could move inside at IU.

  7. I have no issue with linemen learning other positions, that is often something done during spring practice and early preseason practice, not something typically done a week before the start of the season. Does anyone know if this was in fact a recent development, or was it something that has been tried earlier in camp? Does anyone know or heard of any injuries to a guard that may have mandated moving Cronk?

    Moving a veteran tackle inside indicates one of two things to me, 1. that the guard position is a weakness, or 2. Bedford is so impressive/dominating that he needs to be on the field. My heart wants it to be 2, but my head keeps telling me it’s more likely 1. In either case it just adds to the uncertainty of the performance of the OL.

  8. Thanks for the qb info. Then, I have changed my prediction for starting QB to start the season to Penix over JT. Lol. Penix has been there a couple years, now and he was on the verge last year in Penn State game. Makes sense if his knee is good to go.

  9. Wouldn’t rule out JT. Whoever it is needs to keep defense off run game with a good pass game that puts a lot of pressure on defense.

  10. SOSD, I think the move is more about developing experience before injuries happen. Katic and Bedford are looking good but need experience. I hope IU controls the first two games enough to rotate in OL back ups to get experience. Reports from Spring practice said the back ups were good enough just not experienced enough to be a starter. The only concern I have is about NWorah because of his injury history. There hasn’t been any reports about injuries in the OL so I think they are healthy as advertised.

  11. I think BD’s big clue on the QB and what I had heard may be close to reality. Where I heard it from also nailed the Mike Roberts IUBB assistant coaching hire, so we will see.

    1. t!!!,
      If it turns out to be who BD & I have reason to suspect, BD has already given everyone a huge hint.

      1. Clear as the Mississippi….

        If it’s clear, you make the call. Hint rhymes with lint…and only sticks to sweaters. Display the gonads to put the speculation aside and commit to your best guesstimate.

        Too many hedgers here afraid to make a bad call…You all remind me of 50 years of bad IU Football. All sell job. No commitment. Make a prediction…as is with a name. It’s o.k. to be wrong.

  12. BD doesn’t know jack…Oops, did I just give it away?

    Tuttle gets rid of the ball quickly….I think I read that somewhere. I said it was going to be Tuttle a couple weeks ago.
    a) You don’t hand a clipboard to a kid recruited by Alabama and USC.
    b) Penix likely needs to be proceeded with cautiously after the knee.
    c) The fans will head for the exits if Ramsey starts.

    Tuttle starts. Ramsey off the bench if things start to get ragged. Penix likely given another few weeks before seeing much action.

  13. Size(sturdiness)…arm….current healthiness…leadership qualities/vocalness …curiosity factor….and ‘it factor’ all point to Tuttle.

    Just my humble opinion…

  14. “America’s Got Talent.” JT was my early prediction until today after V said Penix was going out first and stated Penix and Ramsey were getting most of snaps. So I changed my mind because I am flexible. Then others are saying something different. Again I am flexible. However, if Tuttle is mobile enough which I earlier stated he was it seems it would fit a run game with the backs IU has.

  15. If it’s not Tuttle now, it will be in a few weeks. He’s not as prone to injury as Penix….He’ll bring more options and downfield capabilities than Ramsey. He is the most viable future. Sadly, I’m not sure Penix will ever have the necessary frame/build to take big hits. Hope he proves me wrong, but I sense another Zander situation where everyone is covering their eyes when he’s running for his life after a breakdown in protection.
    If you’re an IU qb, big hits from the Murderer’s Row of the Big10 East are only a matter of time and pain. If Penix had the protection and balance/depth up front on a thoroughly talented higher echelon team, then the risk would be much lower.

    Tuttle up!

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