Raise your hand if you thought we’d still be talking about the Kevin Wilson era before last season? Thanks to winning six games and getting to a bowl game, we are talking about that exact thing happening.
However, this spring is going to bring about massive change. Big offensive playmakers are gone and the defense will have a new coordinator with a new scheme in place, so this spring takes on more importance than any normal one under Wilson has.
With all the change happening at key positions, lets see what spring football will be all about for the Indiana Hoosiers.
1st Practice: March 5
Spring Game: April 15
1 BIG QUESTION TO ANSWER IN SPRING: Can IU Be a Running Game First Offense?
Here’s the reality of the 2016 Indiana Hoosiers — it will be a run-first offense. Returning a 1,000-yard rusher who was mainly a backup until an injury to Jordan Howard certainly helps that case. So does having to break in a new quarterback, and the front-runner being a run-first type of quarterback.
As we said in the opening, things are changing in Bloomington — and while Indiana being a running back heaven hasn’t exactly been a new development thanks to Howard and Tevin Coleman before him, being a run-first offense will be new.
Can Redding handle being in the cross-hairs on a week-in and week-out basis? Will Indiana have enough at quarterback to make defenses respect the pass game? (Wait are we talking Indiana 2016 or Wisconsin 2015?)
2 REASONS TO ACTUALLY PAY ATTENTION TO SPRING PRACTICE (OR NOT)
— Exotic defensive schemes are always a good reason to tune in to spring football, and the homecoming of Tom Allen and his exotic 4-2-5 defensive scheme should give plenty of reason to want to tune in to all that spring football has to offer (even with a championship-caliber basketball team).
— The mighty “bowl game bounce” is in full effect for the Hoosiers, as they come off a rare bowl game appearance and are hoping to make the jump to a winning season. While Hoosiers football doesn’t drum up a lot of attention in Bloomington this time of year, for the first time in a while there is real hope things are turning around for more than a temporary period of time.
3 POSITIONS NEEDING MOST WORK
— Quarterback: We shouldn’t have to tell you that this was going to be on the list, given what we’ve seen with Nate Sudfeld’s backup situation the last two years. Sudfeld is off the NFL draft and that means a spring with a huge magnifying glass on now junior Zander Diamont. The good news is he has plenty of playing time already, but the bad news is not all of it has been exactly confidence-building. A pretty good sign that Diamont wasn’t just going to be handed the job was bringing in big-armed JUCO transfer Richard Lagow. His tape is ridiculous, and if he can repeat that this spring things could get interesting. Don’t forget about redshirt freshman Austin King either, as sources indicate he was more and more impressive as he learned the offense last year.
— Defensive Line: This was a given too, as Nick Mangieri, tackle Darius Latham (who turned pro early) and nose man Adarius Rayner all are starters that are departing. However, with a switch back to the 4-2-5 defense that may not be the worst thing in the world. It gives a blank slate for new defensive coordinator Tom Allen to work with up front. Look for this group to build from the inside out with quality options inside in Robert McCray and Ralphael Green. Outside? Well…that’s where things are likely to get interesting. Look for the competition at defensive end to be as wide open as almost anywhere on the defense.
— Defensive Back: When you have continuously gotten torched in the passing game no matter the coach in place, something is up with the recruiting and development of players at cornerback and safety. Last season this group gave up a Big Ten-worst 313.8 ypg passing with 32 touchdown passes as well. That’s got to change if the Hoosiers are ever to be a consistently winning program. However, Allen has some parts to work with in cornerbacks Rashad Fant and Andre Brown. The bigger questions come behind them and at safety, where a JUCO addition in Jayme Thompson will finally provide real competition for the two starting spots at safety.
4 PLAYERS TO WATCH
Zander Diamont, QB — There’s no way around it, it’s now or never for junior quarterback Zander Diamont. Having to be thrust in to a starting role as a true freshman wasn’t ideal, but it paid off last season as he looked a very different quarterback. Diamont completed just 48.4 percent of his passes for 166 yards, while throwing for no touchdowns and no interceptions. However, he adds a dimension to the run game that no one else on the roster does — going for 136 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries. He’s got to show more as a passing quarterback, but don’t be surprised to see him putting in the work to show why this offense should be his to run.
Devine Redding, RB —
Offense won’t be the biggest area of attention this offseason outside of quarterback, but Redding needs to show he can be the workhorse back this team needs to be successful. He had a great sophomore season in 2015, rushing for 1,012 yards and 9 touchdowns on 226 carries. However, he also had the advantage of having star Jordan Howard around for most of the season, and he was the “2” in the 1-2 punch when that happened. Now it is him, and him alone at the running back position. How does he handle that workload and the spotlight? That will be interesting to watch in spring ball.
Marcus Oliver, LB — Playing a 4-2-5 defense means plenty of changing roles for the linebackers….especially switching away from a 3-4 defense. Responsibilities are different and so are positions. Some outside linebackers will move to the secondary and others up front too. Still, someone needs to lead a defense full of youth, and that’s where Oliver steps in. He’s got the experience most don’t have on this team and according to early reports out of the start of camp he is becoming the leader of this defense. Watching to see why and how he’s helping to change things in Bloomington should be very key to spring ball.