With a new position coach and a number of new faces in the two-deep the offensive line is one of the bigger question marks for the Hoosiers this fall. Last week new IU O-line coach Darren Hiller spoke to Peegs.com about the start of spring practice for his players, and which guys have made an early impression on him.
Coach Hiller said he has enjoyed working with his linemen for the first few practices of spring football.
“The first thing I will say is that it is a really good group of guys,” he said. “They have a very nice skill-set, and they’ve been trained pretty good. It has been fun to put some pads on and see some physicality out of them. But it’s a good group of young men with a good skill-set so it has been fun for me.”
One thing that has made the transition easier for Coach Hiller is the fact that he knew several of the Indiana linemen before joining the Hoosiers’ staff.
“Eight of the thirteen guys in the room I had some sort of a connection with, whether I recruited them or been in their area and things like that,” Coach Hiller said. “So eight guys when I walked in day one, they had seen my face before and they kind of knew who I was. That’s been good and it has helped in the transition, and it has helped me with just learning names. I don’t have to look at their helmet with name tag to figure out who they are. So guys like Simon (Stepaniak), and Hunter (Littlejohn), and Tyler Knight down in Florida, and Brandon Knight in Noblesville, those were all guys that I had recruited and knew a lot about them so I was very excited when I got here.”
The message that Coach Hiller has had for his plays is there are no set starters at this time, and every spot is an open competition.
“The one thing that I told them is that it’s a clean slate,” he said. “We’re going to have a group one and we’re going to have a group two and a group three, and guys are going to move up and down the depth chart. There are guys right now that in some periods of practice they’re running in the first group and some guys are in the second group and we’re exchanging those guys. Some guys we’re moving from left to right and right to left. I try not to do that as much in practice versus one day we’ll move a guy over and have him play all day on the left side versus the right side. I’m a big believer in competition breeds success, and so we’ve just got to get some of the guys that redshirted last year to keep progressing and keep coming along.”
The new IU assistant said he has been pleased with how a couple of his players are emerging as leaders early on in spring ball.
“The guys that are stepping up as leaders and are being vocal are Wes (Martin) and Simon (Stepaniak),” he said. “Wes doesn’t talk a whole lot because he is kind of a quiet guy by nature, but I think the guys gravitate towards him because of his experience on the football field. We do need to get some other guys, but I think they are all feeling things out as well. They’re learning new terminology even though offensively we’re not a whole lot different from the things they have done. So they are not having to learn a whole new way to play, they just have to learn a new language.”
Coach Hiller said at this time there are a group of linemen that he feels comfortable with, but he is hoping a couple more are able to join that group.
“I think that if at the end of spring all of these guys have a great grasp of what we’re doing and can carry that into the summer we’re going to be in good shape,” he said. “I can tell you right now after these early practices we’ve got seven guys right now that I feel like are going to be players, and then we’ve got some other guys that need to get into that group and kind of get up to speed because you’d love to have ten.”
Coach Hiller is also adjusting to working with a new offensive staff, and he said that is something that has gone very well so far.
“It’s been awesome, and every day we have a good time,” he said about working with the other offensive coaches. “We all miss our families and wish they were here, but it’s really good because we’re in those beginning stages and we will go out to dinner and have our staff meeting at dinner. We will have an offensive staff meeting at dinner and talk over some things. So it’s been really fun, and it is a neat dynamic because it is a good group of guys.”