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September 22, 2011
 

Practice makes for good practice players

After committing 20 penalties in a 38-21 win over FCS opponent South Carolina State, IU head coach Kevin Wilson went on the Dan Dakich show Tuesday to discuss the issue many were questioning.

Wilson pulled three veterans from the offensive line before last Saturday’s game and replaced them with two true freshman (Peyton Eckert and Taylor Bernard) and one redshirt freshman (Colin Rahrig). The issue of penalties was immediately pointed towards the line after the game but not at a place where you would most expect.

Senior left tackle Andrew McDonald committed five of those 20 penalties on his own. Yes, the freshman contributed to several of the penalties on the field but don’t blame the number of flags on youth alone when a veteran member of the offense couldn’t keep it together either.

The Hoosiers game against the Bulldogs is a prime example of what the Kevin Wilson era is going to be about. In order to understand why these players were put into the game, you have to go back to last week’s practice.

To be an integral member of Wilson’s team you have to have good practice habits and be a good practice player. In “coach speak” that’s pretty generic, vanilla term, but I don’t think anyone at IU has seen this principle taken seriously since Bob Knight would bench guys like Steve Alford and play Uwe Blab and freshman who had never gotten a chance to see the court to send a message to his veteran players.

So when asked about his decision to start three freshman on the offensive line, Wilson defended his choice stating that it all stems from attitudes at practice the week prior to the game.

“When you’re not getting the outcomes you want you’re asking guys to change the way you’re practicing, change your enthusiasm, your work habits, your practice habits,” Wilson said. “ I kept seeing some guys repeat the same vicious cycle. I didn’t appreciate their sense of urgency.”

At the beginning of this week, it appeared that many players got the message loud and clear: Either work your tail off in practice and play like you deserve to be on the field or face the fact that you’re going to be watching the game from the sideline.

“Practice is where it all starts,” redshirt sophomore receiver Duwyce Wilson said. “What you do in practice is what you’re going to do in the game and coach is really focused on doing the right things in practice, not coming out sloppy on a Monday or Tuesday. They try to pick us up, they urge us to work.”

It’s pretty obvious to say that everything begins and ends with practice but in years past, especially under Bill Lynch, seniority was a theme not to be messed with and guys who had been at IU the longest were the ones seeing playing time over guys who working at a harder level than the veterans in practice.

I’m not saying that Wilson doesn’t respect the veteran presence on the team, but the entitlement factor isn’t a concern of his at all. Wilson does feel that some of the older guys have that sense of entitlement where the attitude is, “Well coach needs me. I told them after the Ball State game—We can lose without you, cause we’re losing with you.”

A prime example of this situation comes with the running backs. D’Angelo Roberts, a true freshman, got in 19 rushes for 107 yards and a touchdown against SC State. He didn’t play in the first game of the season, saw limited action in the second and finally made an impact in the third. The message that yes a freshman can make an impact at a very early stage struck a chord with Roberts who was tested to the highest level he’d ever experienced in Tuesday’s practice.

“Today was probably the hardest practice we ever did because our reps we’re [very quick] and we only have three running backs now and did the most running we’ve ever done,” Roberts said.

As you all know by now redshirt junior Darius Willis’ time with football is apparently winding down to nothing as it was released that he will be sidelined for the rest of the year after not being able to recover from a knee injury. On top of that, Nick Turner who Wilson said was the best of the running backs in camp is being moved to safety. That leaves the three active backs (Roberts, Steven Houston and Matt Perez) to all vouch for their position week after week with the decision for who starts and who gets in the most reps coming back to how they practiced.

With that said, even if Willis was planning to come back and Turner, too, neither of those guys would have just earned their starting spots back automatically. Coming off injury or what have you, Wilson won’t push aside a guy who’s been working harder than you in practice to let you back on the field, just because you proved something a year ago.

The mental breakdowns as Wilson calls it from Saturday’s game aren’t just attributed to sloppy play in practice. Of course guys will make mistakes out there, especially on the offensive line where they’re dealing with a quarterback who doesn’t have his cadence and timing down yet. The most cliché thing to point out is how a team matures each week in practice, but with the amount of personnel changes each week, if it is all according to what Wilson stands for, attitudes and hard work in practice aren’t constant. In closing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see standout players benched in the latter portion of the season if wins in the Big Ten don’t come as often as they’d like and they’re attitudes are to the point that they give up on the team the way things happened last year.

At that point you may see an entire team of true freshman on the field.

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Courtney Cronin




 
 

 
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