That new insight was on full display in the season opener against Indiana State, where Feeney was a major force as the starting right guard. He and the rest of the line set the tone early, leading the way to a Memorial Stadium record 455 rushing yards in a 28-10 victory over the Sycamores on Aug. 30.
“It felt good,” Feeney said at Monday’s availability. “I’m a fan of the run game, so it felt good to rush for that many yards. Wish we could have gotten more, but that’s what film is for. There’s always things to improve on. We’re still a little rusty.”
Feeney managed to benefit from missing the 2013 campaign, as he was able to step back from playing and study the X’s and O’s of the offense more extensively.
“I can recognize defenses better,” Feeney said. “I understand the game a little more, which is good, but I had to get back in the swing of things and knock the rust off.”
It wasn’t an easy process getting back onto the field for Feeney, as the redshirt sophomore felt the struggles of sitting on the sidelines.
“It’s definitely a long journey sitting out a year,” Feeney said. “It’s definitely mentally straining because you watch your team and you can’t really do anything to help.
“I pretty much had to calm all my nerves down because I was excited to get back out there. It was surreal to get back out there because for a whole year off you are watching your team and you just can’t do anything.”
The transition back to the field wasn’t all that smooth for Feeney at first, as it took a few plays to get back into the flow of game speed.
“The first play, I really messed up my steps there,” Feeney said. “On the second play it was like, ‘alright back to the job.’”
Offensive Coordinator Kevin Johns knows it is a process when trying to come back from an injury.
“Anytime somebody comes back from a serious injury, to think they can step on the field and be 100 percent the same self, that’s just not reality,” Johns said. “He’s a tough kid. He’s been battling and will continue to battle. He’s a kid that needs to continue to get better every day to get himself back to where he was before his injury.”
The Hoosier line is an experienced group this season, as they return nine guys with starting experience. In the opener, the unit proved that they have a more intelligent outlook towards the game. They have been watching more film than ever before, and Feeney said it’s making a difference.
“Defenses can’t hide their stuff if we know what we’re looking for,” Feeney said. “We can watch the safeties to see if they kick over, or anything like that. We can eye it out and get a good idea of what they’re going to do.
“Everybody’s just trying to step their game up now, just enhancing it. So now it’s not just the call on the line, we’re looking beyond that, looking at the safeties, at who can play our gaps and how we have to block it.”
The fact that it is the fourth season that these players have worked in this system helps with knowledge and maturity, and coach Johns thinks that will play a key role in the O-Line’s ability to know what needs to be done at the line of scrimmage.
“As a staff and offensive line unit, we are all a little bit better at knowing what the adjustments need to be,” Johns said. “We feel like if they are going to take away A, then we can go to B, and I think we all know what B is. Hopefully we can continue to build on the experienced line we have.”
As for this weekend’s game against Bowling Green, Feeney said they aren’t worried about what their opponent is going to offer them. While Indiana State focused on the pass and dropped into coverage all afternoon, Bowling Green could stack the box to stop the run. Either way, Feeney said, the Hoosier offense will be ready.
“Whatever they’re going to give us, we’re going to try to take and go with that,” Feeney said. “If they’re going to drop eight we’ll try to run the ball, and if not we’re going to pass. We’re definitely going to try to be a two-way offense.”