Hungry Hoeppner Offense

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—As the Indiana Hoosiers gear up for Spring practice, Hoosier Insider takes a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the offense, including key position battles, up-and-coming underclassmen, and the overall adjustments that will come with Coach Hoeppner's spread offense.

There will be some key offensive position battles this Spring, and the biggest battle will be at arguably the most important position: that's right, with the graduation of senior Matt LoVecchio, the quarterback position is up for grabs. Only two Hoosiers come into spring practice with any experience at QB, as sophomore Blake Powers played in just five games last season, completing only 9 of 22 passes for 98 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, while junior Graeme McFarland has returned to the team after a one year sabbatical, and is the only QB on the roster with a college start.. McFarland completed 18 of 36 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown in just two games in 2003, and as the offense will be new to everyone, his skills and experience give him the inside track coming in, as long as he can shake off a little rust. Two redshirt freshmen will also get considerable snaps this Spring. Grant Gregory is a 6'1", 205 pound QB from Ohio who threw for 2,085 yards and 22 TD's as a senior in '03, while 6'3", 225 pound Mike Vlahogeorge threw for 3,347 yards and 44 TD's as a senior, then graduated early and came to IU in the spring of 2004, making this his second run at IU's spring drills. There's no more valuable position in the spread offense than quarterback. In three, four, and even five receiver sets, the QB needs a quick thought process and a quicker release. Not to discount his pure athletic ability, but those third and fourth read completions Ben Rothlisberger made this year for the Steelers were mainly a product of what he learned at Miami under Coach Hoeppner.

In early January it was probably the Hoosiers' strongest position, but thanks to the departure of the team's leading rusher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the running back spot is up for grabs. The leading candidate to take over is senior Chris Taylor, IU's second-leading rusher from last year with 329 yards on 82 carries. Fellow senior Yamar Washington should get a lot of reps as well. Washington led the team in rushing in 2002 with 688 yards, but he suffered a knee injury in the spring of 2003, missed the '03 season, and gained just 122 yards in limited action last year. Sophomore Kenni Burns will see extensive action this spring as well. Burns was a first team all-state back in Illinois in 2002 who finished his career with 4,584 career rushing yards. He earned the Iron Man Award last spring for taking the most snaps and played special teams in 10 games last year. True freshman Dennis Underwood will also mix it up this spring after enrolling early. The Hoosiers have moved starting fullback John Panozzo to linebacker, which is likely a sign of its importance in the system. Sophomore Josiah Sears, a regular on special teams last year, will probably take whatever snaps there are at fullback, but redshirt junior Alex Stscherban and redshirt freshman Brian Tracz will get a look this spring as well. It would be great for someone to step out and earn the top running back spot here, but Hoeppner's scheme doesn't require a feature back. It will probably be a group effort this year, with a few backs carrying the load. One other viable option that will not be seen until the fall is the emergence of a true freshman back. There are several good recruits joining the team in the fall, but for the Spring there is still plenty of competition.

The wide receiver position is going to be very important in the spread offense. The Hoosiers have to replace the school's all-time leading receiver in Courtney Roby, as well as fellow graduates Travis Haney and David Lewis. Roby, Haney, and Lewis made up for 62% of the Hoosier's receiving yards last year. This should mean a lot of snaps for three redshirt freshman. James Bailey and Isaac Price were highly touted prospects last year, and James Hardy, a forward on the Hoosier basketball team, should all get the opportunity to prove themselves. IU's best holdover from last year is senior Jahkeen Gilmore. Gilmore caught 23 passes for 308 yards and two scores last season, good for second on the team behind Roby. The Hoosiers should also get contributions from the true freshmen coming in the fall, but alas none will be on hand for spring practice. The Hoosiers also lost starting tight-end Aaron Halterman to graduation, leaving a good battle for that position. Junior Chris Rudanovich and sophomore Nick Sexton will be fighting for reps in the spring. Rudanovich caught 12 passes for 133 yards and two TD's last year, and probably has the inside track. Sexton has worked very hard in the off-season, bulking up 30 pounds, and has been a solid receiver since his days at Bloomington North; however, he still has room to improve with his blocking skills, and that may be what keeps him behind Rudanovich on the depth chart.

The offensive line returns four starters from last year, but the line has been plagued by injuries. Senior Adam Hines, junior Chris Mangiero, senior Brandon Hatcher, junior Justin Frye and senior Isaac Sowells all saw significant time in 2004, and have collected 94 starts between them, but each suffered some manner of injury last year as well. If the line stays healthy, it will be solid. Redshirt freshmen Jim Jadron, Matt Moses, and DeWayne Roland should provide some depth, but don't be surprised if one or two are forced to start. Jardon was highly touted out of high school, and could be a valuable addition to the Hoosier line.

Spring Practice starts Tuesday the 22nd, and culminates in the Spring Game on April 15th. Hoosier Insider will cover Spring Practice and have reports from the Spring Game throughout the month of March and April. There are many position battles this Spring, and each young man must work hard to prove himself to the new coach. It is a time of new beginnings for Indiana, and many football players will be looking for a fresh start.

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