Learning curve on defense a key factor
During last year’s dismal 1-11 season, one of the most significant contributing factors to such a poor record was the team’s lack of comfort and experience anywhere on the field. With the entirely new system and culture being implemented, many of the players expected to be experienced leaders were either relegated to the bench (Dusty Kiel, Ted Bolser) or booted from the team altogether (Damarlo Belcher).
Last year’s underwhelming crop of upperclassmen resulted in an abundance of true freshmen seeing the field for the Hoosiers, even as they were trying to learn what it meant to play football at the B1G level. As a result, the early portion of the season was spent giving unprepared players a crash course in the bare essentials that would allow them to see the field. It was a trial by fire of the highest degree, and the struggles that resulted – especially on the defensive end where Indiana gave up more than 37 points per game – weren’t unexpected.
As tough as last year was on the players learning the ropes, multiple players maintained that the experience will help them going forward. Sophomore Mark Murphy – whom Kevin Wilson has singled out as one of IU’s defensive leaders – said after Wednesday’s practice that the defensive playbook has been opened a little wider from where it had been even at the end of last season and that the defensive players are becoming more comfortable with a wider range of plays.
“It wasn’t so much about letting our man get by us,” he said of last years frequent lapses in the secondary. “It was more just miscommunications that made everyone look bad and I think we’re getting better at that.
Wilson said after practice that the next step would be looking at game situations from last year and seeing where games got away from them, something that Murphy said would be the next step in the defense’s maturation.
“Last year it was trying to grasp what was going on,” he explained. “We’re a lot further along there, now it’s just about applying that on the field.”
Watching the application process will be one of the more intriguing developments this season because Indiana’s more seasoned defense is still a very young one. Learning to apply defensive principles to the field usually takes a decent amount of time and while it’s safe to say this season’s defense should be better than last year’s, it’s hard to say just how much better it will be.
For now though, it sounds as if the unit is moving in the right direction.
Young lineman garners attention
Big Ten Network’s television crew visited Indiana practice on Thursday and Dave Revsine tweeted that true freshman Jason Spriggs was taking reps with the 1st team at left tackle. That jibes with what Wilson said after Wednesday’s practice when asked if he was concerned about potentially starting two freshmen (Dan Feeney is taking snaps at left guard) on the left side of the offensive line. Wilson raised some eyebrows when he responded that he wasn’t concerned because Spriggs was better at this point of his freshman year than any other tackle he had worked with except two – and both better than him had gone on to be 1st round picks in the NFL Draft.
Some cursory research reveals that the two players Wilson was referencing were Jammal Brown and Trent Williams, whom both played at Oklahoma and were selected 13th and fourth overall in 2005 and 2010 respectively. Spriggs obviously has some developing to do to get to that point – he’s listed at less than 270 pounds on the IUHoosiers.com – but he evidently has impressed the coaching staff enough in his early work with the team to draw such a comparison.
Roberson still the quarterback
Speaking of Dave Revsine, he put out another newsworthy tweet during Thursday morning’s practice when he said that Wilson ‘made it clear’ after practice that Tre Roberson is still the starting quarterback. There’s been plenty made of a potential quarterback controversy between Roberson, who started as a true freshman last season, junior college transfer Cameron Coffman and highly touted freshman Nathan Sudfeld but Roberson, for the time being, appears to still have a hold on the starting quarterback job.
Roberson was a breath of fresh air for an offense that scored more than 10 points in only one of its first three games, then averaged 22 points per game in B1G play with him as the signal caller. He exhibited superb athleticism along with a surprisingly good throwing arm – completing 57% of his passes against B1G competition with a patchwork offensive line and an inexperienced receiving corps. With a full offseason to familiarize himself with Kevin Wilson’s offensive system, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Hoosiers’ offensive production rise to the next level this season.
Image courtesy of The Bloomington Herald Times