SPRING FOOTBALL: Improvements Apparent

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The thought of last year's spring practice can be enough to make IU Coach Terry Hoeppner shudder.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The thought of last year's spring practice can be enough to make IU Coach Terry Hoeppner shudder.

That's got nothing to do with any early spring chills that were lingering from his first winter in Bloomington. Instead, it involved the struggles that the Hoosier passing game went through last March and April.

Hoeppner arrived in Bloomington after a successful six-year head coaching stint at Miami (Ohio), where his teams went a combined 48-25. They did that thanks in large part to a highly-productive offense that relied a great deal on the RedHawk quarterbacks moving the ball down the field.

But in his first spring in Bloomington, Hoeppner's Hoosier passing attack wasn't getting a passing grade. Sophomore Blake Powers – the back-up to Matt LoVecchio the previous fall – struggled while learning the new offense. Junior Graeme McFarland, who also had to shake off some rust after sitting out the 2004 season - did the same.

Add in the fact Indiana's receiving corps were decimated by graduation in the fall and injuries in the off-season, and it was quickly apparent that finding enough warm bodies was a daunting enough challenge for Hoeppner and his staff.

"In 7-on-7, we struggled last year, early on, to complete 30 percent, 35 percent," Hoeppner said.

Flash forward to spring 2006. This time around, Hoeppner has a player with a year's worth of starting experience under his belt (Powers), a back-up who also got a handful snaps throughout the season (McFarland) and a third quarterback, redshirt freshman Kellen Lewis, whose athleticism and strong arm have many thinking he could challenge for the job this fall as well.

That competition figures to make each of the three better, and that was evident at Monday's opening spring practice session. Hoeppner said afterwards the quarterbacks combined to go 25-of-38 during 7-on-7 drills.

Despite the improved play, Hoeppner knows that there's still plenty of room for improvement. That was equally apparent last fall, when Powers threw 20 touchdown in IU's first six games to help the team to a 4-2 start. But Powers had only two scoring throws in IU's final five games (all losses) while also throwing nine interceptions.

"We're a work in progress at every position," Hoeppner said. "From quarterback through the offensive line."

There might be six months of hard work ahead of the quarterbacks, wide receivers and the entire team before the 2006 season opener, but Hoeppner is encouraged by what he's seen and where the team can go this fall.

"We've got a lot to build on," Hoeppner said. "We've got a lot to work with. The winter we've had, we are light years…ahead of where we were last year. You know I'm an optimist, I'm positive. I was excited last spring, but this year it is a more realistic optimism. We are so far ahead of last year.

"Now, the laundry list is almost endless of what we need to work on, but the potential is also there."

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