Who Stood Tall This Fall?

HoosierNation.com's John Decker reflects on some of the most surprising, disappointing, and unexpected events of the first three weeks of IU football practice.

Biggest Surprise – Kellen Lewis. Usually, when you hear about a high school quarterback who was recruited by others to play another position in college but wanted to try his hand at quarterback, you can quickly see why. But Lewis appears to have all of the tools to be a success under center. He has excellent arm strength, touch, and a good command of the huddle. He combines that with the sort of athleticism that will allow him to elude would-be pass rushers and out-run linebackers and even defensive backs in the open field. Once he gains a better understanding of reading defenses, he'll be competing for the starting job. Until that time, though, he'll likely watch and learn because he's still a bit too turnover prone at this early stage of his college career.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Walker-Roby, James Hardy

Biggest Disappointment – Not being able to see what Matt Lewis could do. The freshman from Daytona Beach, Fla., admitted that he arrived in Bloomington in less-than-stellar shape, which slowed him early in camp and eventually prompted a switch from middle linebacker to defensive tackle. A subsequent knee bruise sidelined him as well, and the most heralded player in the 2005 recruiting class was on the sidelines more often than he was on the field. There's no question that bright days are ahead of him, but most expected him to be a contributor as a true freshman. That now seems like a long shot at best.

Biggest Concern – Quarterback, and for a couple of reasons. While all three signal callers showed the ability to move the ball in the scrimmage, they've still been erratic at times and a bit turnover prone as well. Adding to that is the status of projected starter Blake Powers, who was originally being limited by a sore elbow, and he's now dealing with tendonitis in his right bicep. It doesn't appear to be anything that will keep him from playing in the Sept. 2 opener, but it's a concern nonetheless. There's no question that the quarterback position looks a whole lot better than it did during the spring, but there's still plenty of reason for concern.
Honorable Mention: Offensive Line Depth, Depth at Defensive Tackle

Player to Emerge Out of No Where – Fabienne Boone. A walk-on defensive end from Evansville Bosse, Boone has the looks of someone who can contribute to the team down the line. At 6-2 and 226 pounds he'll need to put on some more weight, but he has excellent speed and athleticism. In high school he played a trio of sports, running the 100 meter hurdles in track and field while also starting for the boys' basketball team. Competition at the position will be tough in the coming years with youngsters like Jammie Kirlew and Neal Jones, but Boone looks like a walk-on who will make a difference for Terry Hoeppner's squad.
Honorable Mention: Matt O'Neal.

Freshman Standout – Jammie Kirlew Kirlew rocketed up the depth chart in the opening week of practice. He made such a quick impression that the staff moved former No. 2 defensive end Kyle Thomas to offensive line late last week, and Kirlew has been a consistent playmaker on the No. 2 unit. He's only a freshman, but he already looks like the sort of playmaker that defensive coordinators will eventually be scratching their heads trying to figure out a way to contain him. He already has good size (6-4, 235) and he has the frame to get bigger without losing his quickness. His explosion off the ball will allow him to give opposing offensive tackles headaches.
Honorable Mention: Geno Johnson, Neal Jones, Brandon Walker-Roby, Nick Polk, Andrew Means

Watch Out For – Emile Bass Victor Adeyanju talked about the freshman from Detroit this week, suggesting that he was a young player that could work his way into the rotation. That would be quite the feat considering he missed the first 1 ½ weeks of practice and didn't first put the pads on until Monday of this week, but the 6-3, 275-pound from Sterling Heights H.S. could do at defensive tackle what Kirlew has already done at defensive end – works his way into the two-deep. Defensive line coach Brian George has been going with sophomores Joe Kremer and Charlie Emerson on the No. 2 unit, with Adeyanju playing the three-technique in 3rd-and-long situations. But depth remains a concern at the position, and if the Hoosiers hold up for four quarters once Big Ten play opens, they'll need a reliable rotation at defensive tackle. Bass is a player to keep an eye on.

Don't Be Surprised If – The defense forces more turnovers than it did a year ago. Last season Indiana forced opponents into 19 turnovers – sixth most in the Big Ten - and IU ranked fourth in the Big Ten in turnover margin with a +4. In addition, the Hoosiers returned five of those miscues for defensive scores. This year's defense, though, appears to have more players lining up who will be capable of forcing turnovers. It starts at linebacker, where both Kyle Killion and John Pannozzo are big hitters that can stop ball carriers in their tracks and force fumbles. Same goes for safety Will Meyers, who be especially important against the run. Finally, sophomore corners Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors, along with senior Buster Larkins, have been coming up with their share of picks during camp. Porter led IU with three interceptions a year ago, despite playing in only seven games. Majors, meanwhile, ranked second on the team with eight passes broken up despite playing in only six contests.

17 days of fall camp, in 30 words or less:

Defensive Line – No. 1 unit is solid, but depth remains a concern. Keep an eye on Ben Ishola– he's been elevated to No. 1 and has been turned loose to make plays.

Linebacker – If healthy, the team's heart and soul. Pannozzo and Killion can each record 100 tackles , and be the best LB tandem in the country that no one knows about.

Defensive Backs – Probably the deepest of any spot on the team. Three proven corners, and 5-6 very capable safeties. IU will go with 5 and even 6 DBs at times.

Offensive Line – Has to stay healthy, especially at tackle. A veteran group that will have to be the stabilizing force offensively early in the season.

Quarterback – No one questions Powers' physical tools, only his decision-making at times. Relatively soft early schedule will be huge – or disastrous - for QB's confidence.

Tailback – Any doubt that Taylor was the clearcut No. 1 was erased by two Yamar Washington fumbles in scrimmage. Sears will get a look as well, while the freshmen will redshirt.

Wide Receivers – Gilmore is the No. 1. Thigpen is the likely slot, although he's had a few drops as of late. Hardy's injury has opened door for Bailey, Walker-Roby to shine lately.

Kicking Game – Beattie has been steady, while Starr appears to be likely placekicker. So long as he's healthy Bennett remains No. 1 return man, but Thigpen will contribute as well.

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