Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
Several of the conference’s coaches were on hand in Chicago Thursday for day one of Big Ten Football Media Days. Among those speaking to members of the media was Indiana’s Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers head coach is headed into his fifth season with program and seems quite optimistic about the potential of his football squad.
“I think we're ready for preseason. Like a lot of things we've had, as we ended last season, the last three or four weeks, recruiting spring, summer, and again we're ready to go for preseason. We've got a great group and great schedule and excited to get started here and crank it up here on August the 5th.”
The team’s depth and ability to redshirt multiple talented athletes from the 2014 class was a big reason for optimism.
“But we've gotten to where last year we actually redshirted good players where maybe year one, year two, some of those guys were playing… So there's about eight or 10 of those guys. Year one, most of those of guys would be in the two-deep. Last year we redshirted those guys. This is the deepest team we've had...”
“We're getting deep enough, I think we can overcome that (injuries). I think we're deeper at quarterback. We'll overcome that better if there are any issues. So this is our deepest team and those redshirt freshmen and two freshmen are going to help us a lot.”
One major question mark entering this upcoming season is the team’s secondary, which will be replacing all four starters, including safety Mark Murphy. Although, Wilson was quick to point out that those personnel losses were not as bad as they might seem.
“One, as last season ended, even though Mark (Murphy) is a four-year starter, Chase Dutra probably had more reps, more snaps, more playing time down the stretch and was probably our best defender. And he by far is the leader of that group.”
“As far as replacing production, we need not only replace those four starters but we were last in the league in pass defense. So we expect a significant improvement in that regard. So sometimes graduation is upon you and it is what it is. So, if we're losing a couple first-round picks and a Thorpe winner, I have a different opinion.”
Earlier in the day the team announced that sophomore wide receiver J-Shun Harris would be sitting out this fall after injuring an ACL during the first week of summer. However, Wilson was able to glean something positive amidst the unfortunate situation.
“I'm proud of our football team keeping a family matter with an injury until today when we released it. It shows the strength of our men working as a group and keeping football business football business and growing the team.”
Even without the team’s leading returning receiver in Harris, Wilson is optimistic about the potential of the position group.
“So it's a tough break for J-Shun, but I think this is the most skill group we've had. This is a significantly better skill group than last year. And I think we've got some kids on par with Latimer and Hughes and that crowd.”
Wilson did warn that there could be some growing pains relying on such an inexperienced bunch at the position.
"Now, they're young. They'll have to step up. They have a great quarterback that can deliver. I think they'll have a really good offensive line and a run game to complement. But we need some young guys to step up on both skill sides of the ball."
Coach Wilson also cautioned that while UAB transfers Jordan Howard and Marqui Hawkins both look good on paper, he’s still unsure what type of impact they’ll have on the field as he was unable to fairly evaluate both during the spring as they were limited due to injuries.
“Jordan Howard, with five days of practice, hyperextended an elbow. Did not require surgery. I think he comes in ballpark at 2,500 career yards and over 1,500 last year, seventh in the nation.”
“Marqui (Hawkins) broke a wrist, got a workout, was very, very limited. He's looked solid in summer. I think he'll be in the mix, but I don't know if he's played enough to separate or step out. So I'm sure he'll be thrown out there. But we've not seen a lot of scrimmage snaps with Marqui Hawkins.”
As expected, the inevitable question about last season’s quarterback injuries was asked. While they obviously set the team back, Wilson’s greatest take away from that situation was how well his team responded to the adversity, continuing to battle and demonstrating a “never quit” attitude.
“But what happened with our football team is, you look at those next four games, our team changed right then and started fighting for themselves. And the way we played Penn State, 13-7, got the lead at halftime at Rutgers, played Ohio State reasonable into the fourth quarter, get the bucket win coming from behind, our team battled very, very strong.”
“And with the quarterback deal, they had a choice to give up. The team didn't. It's a deeper team. It's a more exciting team. That's led to our best recruiting. That's led to an outstanding winter, spring, summer. Again, we're cranked and we're ready to get rolling.”
Overall, Coach Wilson seemed as upbeat and optimistic as he ever has in the past and for good reason. Like he said, the team returns a lot of talented, experienced athletes along both lines and at linebacker, has a veteran quarterback and some good options at running back. If the team is able to fill the holes in the secondary and wide receiver, the football Hoosiers and their fans could be in for a wild and exciting ride this fall.
Keep checking back for more stories about the Cream and Crimson as fall camp gets underway next week.