Now that IU Coach Terry Hoeppner knows they're coming, the next question becomes, which ones are playing?
Certainly the second-year Hoosier head man envisions all 20 members of the 2006 recruiting class contributing during their careers in Bloomington, but some are more likely to make their way onto the football field early. Who are those that might contend for a spot on IU's two-deep in the fall? HoosierNation.com has ranked the ten newcomers most likely contribute next fall.
1. Vernon Smith – Hoeppner said he told the 5-11, 235-pound Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., product that he wasn't bringing him in to "run down on kickoff and give us some depth at linebacker." Instead, the Butler Community College product figures to be a serious contender for the starting middle linebacker job in the fall. Most suspected he'd wind up playing for Pitt, the same school he originally signed with two years ago before academics forced him to go to junior college. But a coaching change resulted in a change of plans for the Pitt staff, and IU was the beneficiary.
2. Cody Faulkner – It doesn't take long to see how much Hoeppner thinks of this 6-4, 306-pound lineman from Hamilton Heights (Ind.) H.S. While offensive line is one of the more difficult positions for a true freshman to step in and contribute, Faulkner's physical maturity – coupled with IU's limited options on the current roster – suggests he'll have an outside shot to start right away, and he's very good bet to at least be on the IU two-deep. IU offensive line coach Bobby Johnson – who started on the offensive line as a true freshman himself – will try to get Faulkner ready in a hurry.
3. Matt Mayberry – There had been some uncertainty where the 6-2, 205-pound Mayberry would play at IU, but Hoeppner erased any doubts when he said the Hinsdale (Ill.) South standout was a linebacker and wanted to play linebacker. Indiana lost starting outside backers Kyle Killion and Josh Moore, leaving the positions there for the taking this fall. Hoeppner said Mayberry will likely play in the 218-222 pound range, meaning he won't have to add a tremendous amount of weight to be ready, in Hoeppner's eyes, to contribute.
4. Mandela Roberts – This 6-0, 220-pound middle linebacker might wind up No. 2 behind Vernon Smith at middle linebacker, but he certainly has a chance to be a factor. Hoeppner loves Roberts' Texas pedigree along with his 4.5 speed in the 40. Once again, there's plenty of opportunities in the heart of the IU defense with the loss of John Pannozzo, and Roberts has said his goal is to avoid being redshirted as a true freshman and contributing in any way he can.
5. Pete Saxon – While a couple of IU's other offensive linemen need to put a little bit more weight on their frames, Saxon checks in at 6-6 and 310 pounds, so he's got the size to play in the Big Ten right now. While he isn't as well known as a couple of IU's other offensive line recruits, Hoeppner said he's closer to a "finished product" than some of the others, and he has great feet and strength as well. Indiana has Chauncey Incarnato and Justin Frye back at the tackle positions for the 2006 season, but Saxon is someone Hoeppner expects to be a factor quickly.
6. Mike Stark – Again, Starks' situation is a combination of his physical readiness and the Hoosiers desperate need for quality linemen on the two-deep. At 6-7 and 285 pounds, Stark figures to quickly blossom into a 300-pound plus offensive tackle who will get better and better as he gets stronger. He'd probably be best served with a redshirt season, but an injury here or there could force him onto the field a bit earlier than they'd hope. If that does happen, though, Stark has the skills to hold his own.
7. Will Patterson – At 6-0 and 205 pounds, Patterson will likely need to add 15 pounds to be ready to be a factor at outside linebacker early in his career. But the Indianapolis Lawrence North product has earned the nickname or "torpedo" from Hoeppner for his ability to fly around the football field. He had 132 tackles and 19 tackles for loss last fall, so it's obvious he's a big-time play maker, something that makes him a potential contributor on defense and on special teams.
8. Jarrod Smith – The Hoosiers return Chris Mangiero at center, but the 6-4, 278-pound Smith could easily wind up No. 2 on the depth chart by the time next year's season opener kicks off. A very good athlete, Smith played tackle in high school but said Bobby Johnson wants him to work on his snapping skills in the off-season in preparation for a move to the interior of the offensive line at IU.
9. Aaron Burks – Aaron gets the nod over twin brother Adrian because Hoeppner said Aaron will start out in the secondary, a position of need. Adrian is expected to start out at running back, a position Indiana returns three promising redshirt freshmen in Demetrius McCray, Bryan Payton and Justin Carrington. Aaron is listed as a safety, but he has the sort of speed that could allow him to play corner as well. If he's going to work his way onto the field in the fall, that's the spot it will be at. IU is extremely deep at safety, but terribly thin at corner. If Aaron has the coverage skills, this could lead to a quick position change.
10. Richard Council – As the lone true cornerback in IU's 2006 recruiting class, the 6-2, 180-pound Council will get a chance to show what he can do early. Indiana returns Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors, but the Hoosiers need better play from the position and better depth as well. Council will also be working with a new position coach as well with the departure of Troy Douglas, so he'll have a great chance to prove he belongs on the field right away.
DECKER: Who Can Play Right Away?
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