Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Spring football has wrapped up, the pads have been put away until August, and the Hoosier players will focus on summer conditioning workouts. The last four weeks have been encouraging if you are an Indiana football fan. We have seen the return of injured quarterback Nate Sudfeld, the resurgence of a beleaguered wide receiver corps, and break out performances from relatively unknown players. So before we head into the sunny skies and warmer weather of the summer months let’s look at the seeds that IU has planted for the fall this spring.
1. Nate Sudfeld is healthy and playing with urgency-
It was terrific to see a healthy Nate Sudfeld out on the field this spring, but it was even better to see him playing with more of a sense of urgency. Offensive coordinator Kevin Johns says, “he realizes his ticking and is almost out of time.” This is the first spring in which Sudfeld has had the team to himself and he did not disappoint commanding the offense and being a more vocal leader in the huddle. In the spring game Sudfeld was a crisp 17 of 24 passing for 187 yards and a score. He did throw an interception, which was a ridiculous play from defensive lineman Darius Latham, but over all Sudfeld’s performance is going to set the bar high for the 2015 season. The only aspect of his game that I wanted to see more of in the spring were his deep throws, but he has enough of those on his resume to show that he will be ok once the season kicks off September 5th.
2. The wide receivers have looked improved-
The Indiana receivers had their issues with drops in 2014 and the passing game was all but disappeared in the final six games of the season, but this spring you could tell that these young players had a chip on their shoulders to show that they belong in the Big Ten. Johns, who coaches the receivers, said one difference this year is that they “realized the names we have lost in the last couple of years and I think that these kids are hungry to prove themselves to everybody”. The Hoosiers entered the spring without the services of Nick Stoner and Shane Wynn just a year after losing Kofi Hughes and Cody Latimer, but the young guys have risen to the challenge and are “excited to prove people wrong during the season”.
The two guys who stood out to me over the spring were Simmie Cobbs and Dom Booth. Cobbs, who caught four passes in the spring game, could become a go to guy for Sudfeld, while Booth has great football instincts and can be a great possession receiver. Another guy who emerged in the final practice is UAB transfer Marqui Hawkins who missed most of the spring with a wrist injury. Hawkins is a sharp route runner and will add talent and depth to this young core.
3. Brian Knorr is giddy about the defense-
Second year defensive coordinator Brian Knorr spoke about his defense like a parent talks about their child who just won the spelling bee, with a giant smile that cannot be hidden. The thing is though, for the first time in a long time, he has the right to be this excited about this Indiana defense, whose front seven could be really, really good in 2015. Having a full year under his belt has let the defensive players become more comfortable in the 34 defense and in turn be more physical and concentrate on the fundamentals of tackling and getting off of blocks better. The defenses combined for 11 sacks, albeit with an ultra quick whistle, that gives some optimism for a pass rush that could mask the youth and inexperience of the secondary.
4. Running back depth should be ok-
Nobody is going to replace what All-American running back Tevin Coleman did in 2014. That was a once in a generation type of performance, and if you missed it I feel bad for you. However, the Hoosiers running game should still be very solid. UAB transfer Jordan Howard should be the number on running back come fall, but he missed most of the spring with an elbow injury. When Hoosier offensive coordinator Kevin Johns was asked if it was frustrating not being able to see what Howard could do. His response was optimistic saying, “I don’t know if it’s frustrating. I think that it just gives someone else an opportunity to prove themselves. And guys did, Alex Rodriguez did and Rickey Brookins did. Some guys stepped up”. Both Brookins and A-Rod stood out early in practice and shined bright in the spring game combining for 170 yards on 28 carries, while Devine Redding, who is probably penciled in as the number two back had 13 carries for 57 yards. The return of Nate Sudfeld and the passing game, combined with a very talented veteran line should spell success for the Hoosiers running game without Coleman.
5. Special teams is wide open-
In order to gain a competitive advantage in 2015 the Hoosiers must find a way to be exceptional on special teams, and right now the battle for playing time at place kicker, punter, and the return game are all wide open. In 2014 special teams were not a strength for the Hoosiers and it cost them a game or two. A minor back injury to kicker Griffin Oakes, who ended last season as the number one kicker, has reopened the door for Aaron Del Grosso. The punting game is even more interesting as incumbent Eric Toth is being pushed by Joseph Gedeon, who Wilson says has a “big leg” and averaged 50 yards a punt in the spring game. Toth probably has the upper hand due do his experience in games, but if he struggles like he did at times in 2014 the big legged Gedeon could be see the field. This battle probably will not sort itself out until well into September.
Overall, the Hoosiers had a great spring practice, even though there were a few injuries, none of them should be of major impact when the season starts and it did allow the coaching staff to see what kind of players they had in the young guys. The infusion of the 2015 signees in June will give the staff a few more decisions to make and will add to the competition for playing time when fall camp starts in August.