Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
It may not feel like it with all the snow and ice falling from the sky, but spring football practice is right around the corner for the Indiana Hoosiers who start team activities on March 26th. This version of the Hoosiers will look very different from the squad who ended 2014 with a 23-16 Bucket victory over Purdue. Here are five questions all Hoosiers fans and we may have before heading into the (hopefully) warmer weather of March.
1. What will the running back position look like without Tevin Coleman and D’Angelo Roberts?
The Hoosiers lost the services of consensus All-American Tevin Coleman when he declared for the NFL draft in December. The decision was a no-brainer and Hoosier fans had been bracing for that moment basically the entire season. Another big absence will be the graduation of back-up running back D’Angelo Roberts who was a vital leader and garnered plenty of praise from his head coach Kevin Wilson. Replacing these two players will not be easy for the Hoosiers, but there is a plan in place.
Indiana received a huge boost to its running game when UAB transfer Jordan Howard decided to come to Bloomington and assume the starting running back role. Howard ran for 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Blazers. He is a veteran back who runs for the tough yards. The Hoosiers also return sophomore Devine Redding who performed decently in a very limited role with 129 rushing yards and a touchdown. Redding and Howard should be joined in the backfield by redshirt freshman Tommy Mister who will be returning from knee surgery.
IU should have plenty of depth at the position, but experience and leadership may be thin to start.
2. What should fans expect to see from Nate Sudfeld?
The 2014 IU football season came crashing to a halt when then junior quarterback Nate Sudfeld crumpled to the ground with a separated shoulder that would require surgery. Sudfeld is back now, in a limited contact role, and should be able to participate in most of the spring drills.
One of the issues that Sudfeld had in his six games in 2014 was his rhythm with his new, younger wide receivers. This spring Sudfeld and his receivers must build that relationship up and become more comfortable with each other on the field. Sudfeld has posted a video of him throwing with his wide outs over the winter and looks to be as strong as ever, but only time will tell if he and the IU receiving corps will be improved in 2015.
3. Speaking of receivers, will there be significant improvements on the field?
2014 was the year of the drop for Hoosier receivers. In every game there was at least one drop that could have changed the outcome of a drive. There were several factors that played into the struggles IU had in the passing game. The most glaring one was losing their starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld, the other was dropping the football. The Hoosiers lost most of their receivers from a 2013 offense that ranked among the best in the country. Replacing players like Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes, and Ted Bolser was not easy and it proved to be an Achilles’ Heel for the offense. The IU passing offense accounted for only sevens touchdowns and 1,697 yards.
So what can we expect to see from the receivers this spring? It will be the first spring practices for players like Simmie Cobbs, J-Shun Harris, and Coray Keel and that should help immensely. The Hoosier passing game is predicated on timing and a good relationship between the quarterback and the receiver. That just was not there last season. This aspect of the game should grow with every snap in every drill. It will be tough to judge what exactly the improvements are until they step on the field on September 5th.
4. Will the defense be better?
It’s a fairly simple question with a fairly simple answer. The defense should be more comfortable in year two of running Brian Knorr’s 3-4 scheme. This side of the ball improved drastically from the beginning of the year until the end. The biggest issue facing the Hoosier defense going into March is figuring out who will replace corners Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter and this issue may not be settled until the season starts. IU has some young talent that could fill in, but until some of the 2015 signees show up on campus Knorr will not know exactly what he has.
The Hoosiers will host their annual spring game on April 18th. Kevin Wilson has tried to turn this event into the football version of Hoosier Hysteria. There should be plenty of storylines to watch while the ground thaws and Hoosier Huddle will be with you every step of the way.