SPRING FOOTBALL: A Lot on the Line

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - IU Offensive Line Coach Bobby Johnson talks about position switches; the development of tackles Chauncey Incarnato and Kyle Thomas; and the importance of the Hoosiers' 15 spring practices.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Bobby Johnson has wiped the Hoosiers' offensive line depth chart clean.

As Indiana gets into the heart of its spring football practice season, it does so with a re-made and a re-shuffled group of offensive linemen that could hold the key to the team's success in 2006.

It's a unit that was hit hard by graduation with the loss of senior starters Adam Hines, Isaac Sowells and Brandon Hatcher. But the changes don't stop there. Johnson has tinkered and toyed with positions and responsibilities in an effort to find a combination that will work come September.

The result is five players on the current No. 1 unit who are either projected as first-time starters or one-time starters who will be playing new positions. Johnson has assembled a front five that features 6'4", 292-pound redshirt freshman Kyle Thomas at left tackle; 6'6", 308-pound senior Scott Anderson at left guard; 6'5", 296-pound senior Justin Frye at center; 6'2", 290-pound junior Johnanthan Sandberg at right guard; and 6'5", 283-pound sophomore Chauncey Incarnato at right tackle.

It's a group that has 38 career starts between them, with 33 of those from Frye. Of course, all 33 of Frye's starts came at either right tackle or right guard, not his new-found role as the team's No. 1 center.

That makes the spring practice season especially important for this group of players.

"We can't get enough days," Johnson said. "We have used two (practices), we have 13 left, and I wish we could get 13 on top of that. Every rep is so valuable."

While it's a new-look offensive line, it's also a group that Johnson thinks can develop into a formidable front five. That starts with his young but talented offensive tackles, Thomas and Incarnato.

Incarnato will be getting his first taste of college football action this fall after transferring from Notre Dame last fall. The Dover, Ohio, product spent one season in South Bend as a redshirt before leaving after Coach Tyrone Willingham was fired after the 2004 season. Thomas, meanwhile, is a Bloomington (Ind.) North graduate who moved from defensive end to offensive tackle last fall. He's added 30 pounds to his frame since the close of the 2005 season.

"For what we do offensively, I really value athleticism at offensive tackle, and I felt I put our two most athletic guys at tackle with Kyle Thomas at left and Chauncey Incarnato at right," Johnson said. "Both of those guys are young, but they show a lot of potential and promise. They don't have a lot of experience, but hopefully athleticism will get them through some of that."

On the interior, Anderson started four games at right tackle a year ago but has moved inside. Sandberg, meanwhile, spent a couple of seasons backing up Adam Hines and is finally expected to get a chance to see extensive action this fall.

"The reason I put Scott (at left guard) is because he's a guy that really understands things," Johnson said. "He's pretty knowledgeable and has a great work ethic, and hopefully that will rub off on Kyle. Not that Kyle doesn't work hard, but the simple fact he's seen some things and understands some things that he can kind of bring Kyle along through some tough spots.

"Sandberg is a tough, hard-working kid. This will really be his first opportunity to play some, so he's chomping at the bit for the opportunity."

Frye, meanwhile, is likely going to be the glue of the unit. He's expected to be a fourth-year starter this fall, but at his third different position. While some might not be enamored with a position switch before their final college season, Johnson said it's not only a good move for Frye, but one he welcomed.

"Justin Frye is probably the most experienced guy in the building," Johnson said. "Justin has played everything. I think he's most comfortable at center first because he's covered on both sides, but also because we're running a lot of our offense through the center.

"He's like a second coach on the field. He's a son of a coach, he wants to be a coach. So a lot of things I am going to put on the center, Justin saw at tackle, saw at guard."

While those five comprise the No. 1 unit in March, there are no guarantees by the time August rolls around. Not only are there players such as two-year starter Chris Mangiero on the second unit, but there's also a talented group of true freshmen that will arrive in the fall.

That's expected to make for some hotly-contested position battles this spring and fall.

"I think the majority of guys realize how important this spring is because they realize we're competing," Johnson said. "There's a lot of battling going on for starting jobs. If I want that job, I can't let a guy get a rep up on me.

"So I think there's a heightened sense of urgency with all of them - I think they all realize the situation."

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