Indiana began its third week of preseason training camp Monday with its first game of the season less than three weeks away.
Monday’s practice followed the first fall scrimmage of the season two days prior on Saturday, Aug. 15.
For some players, it was their first game simulation experience with pads. Newcomers like Marqui Hawkins and Jordan Howard, a pair of UAB transfers, were both limited and forced to sit out the spring game in April because of injuries.
”Anytime you get a chance to move the ball and have referees there, have the guys see signals (and) coaches communicate, that game simulation, we can’t do that enough,” Indiana offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Kevin Johns said. “Now it’s time to get him (Howard) going. There’s some other guys like that too at receiver and some freshmen as well. The more game simulation we can do, the better.”
Getting as much game simulation in as possible will be necessary for this team, especially for its receivers.
Out of the 15 receivers currently on the roster, five of them are first-year players. With the loss of J-Shun Harris III, the players returning have limited experience.
There is plenty of size and depth at the receiver position, the question is: how will it shake out?
Johns said he didn’t know if one single receiver was standing out, aside from redshirt junior Ricky Jones being the most consistent of the group. He also said after Jones, it’s just a bunch of players competing for jobs.
”A lot of competition, but really just a lot of learning,” Johns said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I think right now they’re fighting and working hard. Love their attitude, just need more growth.”
One player who has seen substantial growth over the course of his IU career, especially this past year, is redshirt junior wide receiver Mitchell Paige. The Carmel, Ind. native earned a scholarship this past spring after joining the program as a walk-on during preseason camp in 2012.
According to Johns, Paige is currently the team’s starting slot receiver.
”My first spring was great, I played really well,” Paige said. “And then the next fall, I didn’t play as well, and then next spring I was playing well again, so it’s just been up and down but I’m ready and excited.”
Johns also spoke Monday about the depth and potential of the running backs on Indiana’s roster.
Howard, who ranked seventh in the nation last season with 132.3 rushing yards per game last season, is competing with returning players Devine Redding, Ricky Brookins, Alex Rodriguez, Andrew Wilson and Tommy Mister.
”Everybody’s making plays, being productive, making key blocks,” Redding said. “I mean, everybody’s on. The best thing to do right now is just to keep fighting, keep working.”
Another skill position group offense with considerable depth and competition is the tight ends, with three of the six players being upperclassmen.
”A couple years ago, that position was just weak as far as depth and numbers,” Johns said. “Now, we have a bunch guys who have played with a bunch of experience… we like all those guys right now.”
Johns said the offense is doing well, but still wants to see growth.
”For us, every year you have to go back to square zero,” he said. “And for us, we’re just learning, how do you play fast, how do you get lined up, how do you execute our base concepts, and then we’re trying to get our freshmen caught up to speed as well.
”So far so good, but there’s still miles to go.”