Will anyone emerge at quarterback?We know the leading candidates are redshirt sophomores Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel, the two main understudies during the last two seasons behind the departed Ben Chappell. The big redhead left the program as the second leading passer in Hoosier history with 7,251 passing yards and 45 touchdowns and led the Big Ten in passing yardage (3,295) last season. For two sophomores that combined for just 29 pass attempts last year those are some awfully big shoes to fill.
The good news is that quarterbacks coach Rod Smith says he likes the "clay" he has to work with in both players. They can both throw the ball well and Smith feels he can mold them into to the type of trigger man he wants running the offense. The biggest hurdle remains their lack of game experience, but the Hoosiers hope to add as many game-like reps as they can between now and the start of the season. It's not equivalent to actual games, of course, but it will be the first time they have worked so extensively with the first unit so the next month and a half are key.
While each player possesses a big arm, they both bring slightly different things to the table otherwise. Wright-Baker is closer to the burly, physical build of Chappell, a pocket-passer with the ability to shrug off defenders and extend plays. Meanwhile, Kiel brings more agility to the position and seems to operate at a quicker pace in general. Those natural traits could shade the competition, but ultimately the quarterback that grasps the offense better and consistently makes the better decisions will seize the job. The Hoosiers are hopeful someone takes big strides in doing just that this spring, but they won't rush a competition that will almost certainly drag into the fall.
How will the offensive line adjust to a new tempo?While the quarterback competition is likely to steal most of the headlines this spring, no first-year starter at quarterback will enjoy much success this fall without a good offensive line in front of him. One of the underrated aspects of Chappell's game was his ability to get rid of the ball quickly and make small moves in the pocket to avoid sacks. Less experienced quarterbacks are going to need even more help up front so a revamped offensive line needs to make big strides this offseason.
The Hoosiers lost a key piece of the puzzle in future NFL draft pick James Brewer, the main man responsible for protecting Chappell's blindside last season at left tackle. With that safety blanket gone the Hoosiers need a new tackle to make a big leap this spring.
Moreover, the Hoosiers will need each lineman to show that the offseason conditioning program has been paying off. The coaching staff wants their guys to play as quick as their guys can handle with a no-huddle scheme hopefully taking hold. That puts a tremendous strain on the big guys up front and they've spent the last couple months trying to shed empty pounds that may slow them down. While Bill Lynch's offense was by no means plodding, it's still going to be a tremendous difference for the lineman this spring as they try to mold a more athletic unit. Their ability to keep up individually as well as gel as a cohesive line will be as important as any development this spring.
How will the secondary shake out?Perhaps no unit on the team will be more up-for-grabs than the IU secondary. That's what happens when you give up more passing yardage than any team in the Big Ten over the last three years. So while several lettermen return to the defensive backfield, no one is being handed a job before the spring begins.
The key candidates to stake some sort of role in the secondary are fifth-year seniors Chris Adkins and Donnell Jones. Both players have seen time at cornerback and safety before settling in at the latter position last season. Injuries have plagued their careers at times, but both have shown solid tackling skills and the ability to be physical in pass coverage. It's a skill set that can't be overlooked as new safeties coach Doug Mallory has said that the days of playing "small, thin kids" may be over at IU as they try to match-up with the conference's big receivers on a week-to-week basis.
It's at cornerback where the really wide-open battles will be waged this spring as there is no one truly entrenched on either side. What the host of competitors fighting for a job will really be trying to do next month is establish a pecking order and some favor in their coaches eye before the true freshmen join the competition this fall.
Will redshirt freshmen be a factor this spring?While the addition of the true freshmen will change the game this fall, there are plenty of redshirt freshmen eager to finally earn some playing time this spring. One of the best gifts Lynch left behind for the new staff is a bevy of players carrying an extra year of practice reps under their belt. Will one of those freshmen burst onto the scene this month?
There are several players that seemed poised to do just that. Ohio lineback Chase Hoobler made a splash on the scout team last year and is anxious to join the fray in a wide-open competition at linebacker. Detroit native Ishmael Thomas is another intriguing linebacker at 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and athleticism to spare. Brian Williams and Drew Hardin will get a look in the secondary and wide receiver Tim O'Connor would have played last season if not for splendid depth at the position already. Any one of these names, or someone even more off the radar, could go a long way in claiming a starting job this spring.