Indiana's Utility Lineman

In baseball there has always been the revered "utility infielder", a guy capable of playing second base on one day, shortstop the next, and maybe third the day after that. Football has never really had a directly analogous position, but IU senior Justin Pagan has done just about everything he can to popularize the phrase "utility lineman".

In baseball there has always been the revered "utility infielder", a guy capable of playing second base on one day, shortstop the next, and maybe third the day after that. Football has never really had a directly analogous position, but IU senior Justin Pagan has done just about everything he can to popularize the phrase "utility lineman".

"I do whatever they tell me to do," said the IU senior. "Right now I am practicing at only left guard just to get locked in, but if they want me somewhere else tomorrow, whatever they say goes."

Such has been the mantra and life of Pagan, a 6-foot-5, 312-pound mountain of a man who may share his versatility with a utility infielder, but little else. Since he arrived on campus as a wide-eyed freshman in 2008 Pagan has been called on to fill a variety of roles. That fall he was one of the few rookies to start several games for the Hoosiers and he did it the hard way. It's difficult enough learning one position your first year on campus. Pagan learned four as he made starts at right tackle, left tackle, left guard, and right guard.

The next season he got a rare respite from switching around as he made 11 starts at left tackle. He posted one of the better seasons for a young blindside protector, allowing just one sack on the year. It seemed he had found a permanent home, but last season the Hoosiers suffered several injuries along the line and suddenly Pagan's versatility was once again in need. He would once again make starts at both tackle positions as well both guard positions. By now it was old hand, though and Pagan heads into this season comfortable with the utility role that he has become relied on for.

"It's good because it's not like we have to go with the guy behind you on the depth chart to fill a position," said Pagan of not just his versatility, but the offensive line as a whole. "We're more versatile than that. We have enough guys that you can play the five best guys on the line at all times and not just the five best at their one position."

Needless to say Pagan's head hasn't necessarily been spinning with changes being made offensively by new Coach Kevin Wilson. He's quite used to learning on the fly at this point.

"It's been pretty easy to pick-up so far," said Pagan of the new offense. "It's nothing that we can't accomplish and it's pretty lineman friendly."

Instead, the biggest adjustment for Pagan and his fellow linemen has been the speed at which the offense operates. With Wilson and his staff putting a heavy emphasis on the no-huddle scheme and quick snaps, the off-season has been spent converting the bigger linemen into more streamlined versions of themselves.

"You got to get in shape," said Pagan of the new offense. "It's six- pack abs and beach bodies. There's no more typical, big hoss offensive linemen. You got to be in shape now."

To prepare for a high-speed spring camp, the linemen took body tests shortly after the new staff arrived in Bloomington. The results helped the strength and conditioning staff tailor their workouts and even their diets to fit their needs.

"For me personally I've really got leaner and I feel faster and I feel lighter which is better for my knees and all that stuff," said Pagan. "Seeing guys like Mark Damisch, who has slimmed down a lot, I can see him moving way more explosively than he used to. It's definitely making a difference for us."

It hasn't been easy, though. The workouts have been grueling, the diets have been strict, and the coaching staff hasn't worried about sparing any feelings in spring practices. It might seem like a tough change to swallow for some upperclassmen accustomed to old habits, but Pagan says that couldn't be farther from the truth.

"He didn't have to sell us on it," said Pagan. "You got to do what you got to do to win. It's voluntary to win is what Coach Wilson told us on the first day and it's voluntary to do the right things. You either do the right thing or you or not going to be on the team."

So far it seems to have only brought the team closer together and fired their enthusiasm for the season ahead.

"We are a really anxious group," said Pagan. "Everybody is working really hard. I love the way our offense and especially our defense is playing. It's great. I'm real excited."


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