Expected to Start
Regardless of who ultimately starts under center, the Big Ten's best passing offense from a year ago will look relatively the same in 2013 as all three starters return. The speedy Wynn led the team with 68 receptions and tied Latimer for the most receiving touchdowns with six. Latimer topped the pack with 805 yards while Hughes chipped in 639 yards and three touchdowns.
All three have different strengths that compliment each other. Latimer is considered the most athletic of the group and can go up and win the one-on-one ball. Hughes is a reliable possession receiver. Wynn's speed allows him to consistently get open in the middle of the field, making him an ideal slot receiver.
In the Two-Deep
Wilson is easily the most intriguing of the bunch. He has 935 career receiving yards despite missing the final four games of 2011 with a torn ACL and playing through a sports hernia last season. 488 of those yards came in 2010, his freshman year. This is the first time he's been 100 percent healthy since then and is primed for a big year. Ask any of the other receivers and they'll tell you Wilson is the most talented of the group.
An All-Big Ten selection in track and field, Stoner was used primarily as a punt returner last season. He caught 13 passes for 118 yards. He possesses a lot of quickness but is raw when it comes to playing the position. Now in his third year, he may be ready to make a jump and become a reliable backup.
Roundtree spent last season as a running back, catching just six passes for 68 yards. The coaching staff likes his speed, and with a logjam at running back, he's made the switch. While he doesn't have much experience as a receiver, he is at the very least familiar with the offense having appeared in 11 games last year.
Others in the Mix
Jones redshirted last season after suffering a season-ending ankle injury following the season-opening win over Indiana State, in which he caught a pass for two yards and returned one kick for 12 yards. Considering he was a kick returner as a freshman, he has speed to burn. He was named to the class 4A All-State team as a senior at Booker High School in Sarasota, Fla.
Help on the way
J-Shun Harris/Fisher HS/Fishers, Ind./5-8/165
Harris' strengths include body control, elusiveness after the catch and good hands/concentration, according to Scout's player evaluation. A three-star recruit, he is undersized at 165 pounds (even Shane Wynn would blush) but could be the next Wynn if he can add weight.
Here's what Midwest Football Recruiting Analyst Allen Trieu had to say about Harris:
"Smaller receiver with excellent quickness and skills for the position. Has sure hands and great ball skills. He tracks the ball, adjusts to passes and positions himself naturally to catch passes downfield. After the catch and as a return man, he has good elusiveness and open field ability."
Johns, who is also co-offensive coordinator and coaches the quarterbacks, is coaching the receivers for the second year in a row. This is his third year with Indiana, though he and Wilson have history. Johns' first job in college football was as Northwestern's offensive graduate assistant during the 1999-2001 seasons when Wilson was offensive coordinator.
Prior to Indiana, he spent the 2004-10 seasons at Northwestern, including the final five coaching the receivers. He was the receivers coach at the University of Richmond from 2002-03.
The easy way out is to say that this group is good at a lot of things. It's hard to argue with that when the Hoosiers had the No. 1 passing offense in the Big Ten in 2012. All three starting receivers (Latimer, Hughes and Wynn) finished in the conference's top 10 in receptions and receiving yards.
In short, the receiving corps is full of playmakers. Shane Wynn is capable of breaking off a big gain because of his speed and is also incredibly reliable — he was second in the Big Ten a year ago in receptions with 5.7 receptions per game. Latimer and Hughes make for great options on the outside. Wilson, considered to be the most talented of the group, could emerge as yet another weapon now that he's finally healthy. Hughes and Wilson could be the No. 1 receiver on several other Big Ten teams.
With so much talent, Indiana can confidently stretch out defenses by running four and five-wide out sets. Defenses will not have the luxury to key on one receiver lest they get burned by the others.
What needs to improve?
1. Making "competitive catches."
One phrase that consistently came up when talking with the receivers about what they were focusing on improving was making more "competitive catches." All of the receivers had good if not great numbers last year.
More important than aggregate totals is the timing of those catches. The Hoosiers ranked eighth in the Big Ten in converting on third down with a 36.9 percent success rate. They weren't particularly efficient in the red zone, either. Indiana converted just 67 percent of its trips to the redzone into touchdowns (34 TDs in 51 chances) while 77 percent of its redzone scores were touchdowns (the Hoosiers settled for 10 field goals).
The receivers can help improve those numbers by making more of those "competitive catches." There's much less room to throw inside the red zone, so a receiver's ability to a win a jump ball or hang on to a ball in heavy traffic can be the difference between a score and an incompletion or interception. The same can be said on third down, when defenses tend to ratchet up the pressure.
2. Run blocking
Making competitive catches has a lot to do with physicality, which is also important in the run game. Indiana ranked 10th in the Big Ten in rushing offense in 2012, averaging 130.8 yards per game on the ground. Being more physical in the run game has been a focal point in camp as the Hoosiers look to improve on the 3.9 yards per carry they averaged last season. If the receivers can do a good job on the edge, it could open up some big lanes for IU's speedy backs in Stephen Houston and Tevin Coleman. Doing so would go a long way towards improving the run game and restoring some balance to the offense.
Kevin Wilson's take on the unit.
"He needs to play with a little bit of physical presence whether it be the blocking game or with the ball…but again he's going to make some plays. He's had a great camp, he's one of our best leaders."
—Wilson on Shane Wynn
"Last year he was close to being really good. He's starting to flash like he's got a chance to be not only a good player here but a good player in this game. He's got a chance to be a really good player. Cody's going to have a chance to be a good leader because he's got a great performance to back it up."
—Wilson on Cody Latimer
"This is his last go, this is his last year, and if he wants any chance of being a guy to be looked at next year he needs to have a great year. So I think he's got a sense of urgency and has worked harder."
—Kevin Wilson on Kofi Hughes
The players and coaches weigh in, too
"When I showed up two years ago we played all freshmen and sophomores and we were not very good at all. We were one of the worst passing offenses in this country. And now we feel like a year ago we were No. 1 in the Big Ten. I'm ready for these guys to step on the field and understand they can take over at any time. I'm ready for that attitude."
—Wide receivers coach Kevin Johns
"Just trying to avoid the hit with speed, trying to get to the point of attack where you need to get to avoid that hit. And if I get hit, I just get hit. They're going to keep hitting me all day because I'm keep catching the ball. You're going to get hit whether you catch it or you drop it, so you might as well catch it."
"I'm going to say we are. We're out here working every day, we see what each other are capable of. I say we can be the best in the Big Ten. We've got to continue to grow. I mean you can never be to sure, so we're just going to keep growing every day as a corps and just working hard."
—Cody Latimer on whether this unit is the Big Ten's best
No catch is going to be easy, whether it's coming back for a curl whether it's someone's hitting you in the back. But we need those competitive catches and when we make those we're going to win games."
—Kofi Hughes on making competitive catches.
The sky is the limit for this unit, which is arguably the team's deepest and most talented. What remains to be seen is if their offseason strength training translates into more physical run blocking and an increase in competitive catches.
This group will put up gaudy numbers given the nature of Indiana's offense. You'll know the receivers have taken the next step when the most important stat — TD's — increases.
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