Rahrig has some big (and wide) shoes to fill

Collin Rahrig is tasked with replacing a former team captain and four-year starter. The redshirt junior is up for the challenge and is earning respect along the way.

Given the opportunity, Collin Rahrig couldn't help but poke some fun at his predecessor. Literally speaking, Rahrig would have a hard time fitting in former offensive lineman Will Matte's shoes.

"He had to get special shoes…They were pretty wide," Rahrig said with a laugh.

Figuratively speaking, filling Matte's shoes is no easy task either.

Rahrig, a redshirt junior, is tasked with replacing a mainstay on Indiana's offensive line. Matte, a four-year starter, tied the school record for starts at center with 45. In 2012 he was elected a team captain. Matte's production and leadership will certainly be missed, but Rahrig seems up for the challenge of anchoring the offensive line.

It helped that he was able to learn from a player like Matte.

"A lot of the times it was just how he carried himself," Rahrig said. "Will was a competitor. He may be undersized just as I am, but he came every day, gave 110 percent. He kind of just threw himself into the life of football.

"I try to embrace that as much as possible and just follow what he set up for us. He was a great leader last year and I'm just trying to take that over."

It's not as if Rahrig is completely new to the position. When Matte went down with an injury in 2011, Rahrig made three starts at center. In total Rahrig has played in 18 games and has made 14 starts, 11 of them at one of the guard spots.

Mathematically, Rahrig cannot surpass Matte in starts. But Rahrig, who walked on to the team in 2010, is earning the respect of his fellow linemen.

"I think Collin has stepped up a lot," said junior guard Bernard Taylor, who will flank Rahrig's left side this season. "Obviously I don't really think anybody can like, fill the shoes of Will Matte — I mean he was a great senior leader. But Colin is definitely on the right track to getting there. The O-Line's behind him 100 percent."

The importance of having a good center with leadership was not lost on Kevin Wilson, who did not have to worry about that sort of thing his first two years.

"That position right there is a little more critical than most people know because one, he throws the ball more than anyone…but no matter who your best player is your center is kind of your leader of the line, kind of sets the tone.

"It's a very stressful position. He's done at outstanding job… It's a critical position for us. We need to keep doing well there."

Rahrig will lead a line that was exceptional in pass blocking last season— the Hoosiers led the Big Ten by allowing a sack just once every 31.8 pass attempts — but is tasked with revamping the conference's least productive rushing attack.

"The biggest thing is we want to be the best O-Line in the Big Ten," he said. "You can't do that without a run game. So that's why we've been pounding that so hard. We can't go out there and just throw the ball all day…because (that) doesn't show that powerful, aggressive game that we want to show. We want to prevent the most sacks and that just shows we're one of the best O-Lines in the Big Ten."

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell has also liked what he's seen from Rahrig, who is being pushed by backup redshirt sophomore Jake Reed.

"He's done a good job through camp, and I think it really started back in the spring between him and Jake, really working hard, understanding what they have to do up front making the calls," Littrell said. "As a center you've got to be a great leader, you've got to understand the offense, and I think both those guys did a great job really understanding that.

"Collin right now is at that position and doing a good job, and he's just got to keep gelling that unit together."

As a team captain and starter, Matte was frequently recognized by his teammates for his play and leadership. That wasn't as much the case outside of Memorial Stadium. Matte was named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media last year — a nice superlative — but still not a spot on an all-conference team.

Time will tell if Rahrig can achieve that sort of recognition. According to offensive line coach Greg Frey, Rahrig has one simple attribute to work on to do so.

"Block people," Frey said. "Not in a sarcastic way, but that's what you do. Upper level guys they get on, they lock on and they move people. As far as it goes he's got to do that on Saturdays. If he does, he'll be considered upper level."

Follow Joe Popely on Twitter at Twitter.com/joepopely

Peegs.com Top Stories