Written By David Sugarman
While they are often always considered the most important unit on the field you rarely know them all by name. You always hear how games are won and lost in the battle at the line of scrimmage, but for some reason we tend to overlook those names along the offensive line. Today we’re here to change that as we take a look at who’s going to be pushing the pile and protecting whomever the starting quarterback is come August 31st against Ohio State.
In our original two-deep depth chart the projected starters all have at least some experience. The youngest of the bunch being left tackle Coy Cronk who will be a true sophomore and despite going through some growing pains, got a ton of experience and showed great promise as a freshman, earning multiple awards. Cronk was named a Freshman All-American by 247Sports and a Freshman All-Big Ten selection by ESPN.com and BTN.com. The experience and, hopefully, at least some built in chemistry they already have will prove important because of this coaching staff going through immense changes, particularly on offense. Indiana will have new faces at all of the offensive coaching positions including new offensive coordinator in Mike DeBord coming over from Tennessee and offensive line coach in Darren Hiller from South Florida after Greg Frey left for the offensive line coach position with Michigan. Indiana’s line combined with excellent halfbacks have made them successful over the last few years, finishing in the top-five in the Big Ten rushing yards two of the last three seasons. Hopefully the fact that Indiana won’t be giving many true freshman too much run will be an advantage given the loss of the coaching staff as well as All-American Dan Feeney.
Left Tackle: Coy Cronk
Cronk, a 293-pound sophomore, excelled his freshman year in a number of areas. The Central Catholic product had the chance to learn under one of the best in Dan Feeney. Cronk touched on during the season that while he seized the opportunity of Feeney and others along the offensive line being hurt, he still built a strong relationship with the upperclassman. Cronk would ending up getting action in every game and would earn himself spots on the ESPN.com and BTN.com All-Freshman selection team. Still just a sophomore, the future is bright for Coy Cronk.
Left Guard: Wes Martin
A redshirt sophomore, Martin became a regular starter this past season after starting just 6 games in 2015. Now with a full year under his belt with a unit that only gave up a shade over two sacks a game and helped produce a 1,000-yard back in Devine Redding, Martin’s game should take another step in the right direction this season.
Center: Simon Stepaniak
While I touched on how some on this line will tout experience, others won’t. Stepaniak played in twelve games last season, but started just two. It’s difficult to say whom Stepaniak will be snapping the ball to at this point, but hopefully that decision will be made earlier than later in the process so he can develop that chemistry quickly with his quarterback. With Zander Diamont out of the picture, outside of the occasional Tyler Natee wildcat, Stepaniak will likely only be snapping it to one QB this season, which could help ease the transition from reserve to starter.
Right Guard: Hunter Littlejohn
Another player along the line that lacks experience is Hunter Littlejohn. After redshirting as a freshman in 2015, Littlejohn got in just one game this season, at Rutgers. At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Littlejohn has good size and potential, but is mostly an unknown at this point in the game.
Right Tackle: Brandon Knight
After stepping in for fifth-year senior Dimitric Camiel when Camiel required season ending back surgery, it wasn’t long before Knight suffered the same fate. After an injury against Maryland that would require surgery, Knight’s season was over. When he’s been healthy Knight has shown some promise though. In 2015 as a freshman he was named IU’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Before the injury this past season he had made six starts. With Camiel gone and Knight presumably healthy, Knight should be a solid piece to Indiana’s front five.
Left Tackle: Delroy Baker
Baker saw action in 9 games last season, mainly at right tackle. Being able to step in at any position when the injury situation calls for it is vitally important. Expect to see Baker a fair amount in relief and be one of the go to guys if a starter goes down.
Left Guard: Mackenzie Nworah
After redshirting in 2016, Nworah will suit up this year. How much time he’ll see is yet to be determined. Nworah we’ll be getting his first game action since his days at Manvel High School in Houston, Texas where he was voted the team’s top lineman.
Tackle: Tyler Knight
After enrolling early in spring classes this semester, Knight is on campus and will be participating in spring practice. A 3-star recruit from Saint Petersburg, Florida, Knight was one of the first commits to the 2017 class. For him to stay on board despite all the turnover within the program is both admirable and possibly a good sign in his faith in the program. Ranked the 99th ranked offensive tackle in the nation by ESPN, with Indiana having a plethora of inexperienced centers, the fight for the starting job could be one that Knight throws his hat into.
Right Guard: DaVondre Love
A redshirt sophomore to be, Love saw time against Florida International, Maryland and Rutgers last season, all Indiana wins. Love played on both sides of the ball at Affton High School in Missouri and that plus his 6-foot-7 frame could prove to be an asset when he gets his chances in 2017.
Right Tackle: Grayson Stover
If and when Stover sees the field this season it will be his first game action as a Hoosier. The Spring Hill, Florida Native redshirted last season, but made the most of the experience. Stover won scout team player of the week on two occasions and could be useful in relief for IU next season.
The Times they are a Changin’
Indiana has a mix of youth and experience all under new direction right now on the offensive side of the ball. How all the new players getting significant time for the first time will mesh with a nearly brand new coaching staff is yet to be seen, but the young line has shown promise and potential in the past.