Bloomington, Ind. – The conditions were just about ideal for Coach Terry Hoeppner's Hoosiers Thursday for the spring's 10th practice session.
With it being about 50 degrees and raining outside, Hoeppner's Hoosiers went indoors to the John Mellencamp Pavilion Thursday, a move that was made more out of necessity than choice. "I don't know what it's doing out there now, but at 3:45 it was pouring," Hoeppner said.
Hoeppner joked that the only drawback to going inside is trying to keep track of all of the footballs.
"I threatened the punters that if they kept losing balls in the ceiling I was going to make them pay for them," Hoeppner said.
The Hoosiers' head coach was pleased to not only be able to stay dry, but also in the fact the offense made a handful of big plays during a couple of different 11-on-11 sessions. After doing positional work at the start of practice, the Hoosiers went straight into 11-on-11 drills before running about 15-20 plays during some 7-on-7 work. Indiana then closed practice with some more 11-on-11 play, and again there were plenty of big plays to go around.
"The offense made some plays today," Hoeppner said. "They needed to – they needed to do some things."
Most of the big plays come courtesy the passing game. During the first 11-on-11 session, senior Graeme McFarland came up with a pair of big scoring plays, connecting with tight end Matt O'Neal down the middle of the field for a touchdown, followed by a deep ball down the right sideline to Andrew Means for another score.
Then, during the practice's final 11-on-11 session, a couple of others made big gainers in the passing game. Sophomore James Hardy had the day's best catch, pulling in a Blake Powers over-the-middle throw with one hand against Bruce Hampton for a 25-yard plus gain. Then, Kellen Lewis came up with his own big play, hooking up with Chris Banks in the end zone for another score.
After some of the offense's struggles in last Saturday's scrimmage and during some of the team's other 11-on-11 work, the coaches were pleased to see more production out of the offense Thursday.
"I thought we were crisper today," said Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Bill Lynch. "A lot of it is our defense has been playing pretty good. We probably competed a little better today and we made some plays.
"Your defense is generally ahead of your offense (at this point in the spring). We've practiced 10 times. We're two-thirds of the way through (spring) practice, but that's the equivalent of a week into fall camp, where you're still installing and you've got new guys and you're trying to figure out schemes and the defense is moving, so it makes it tough for you up front. But that's where you have to make some plays, and I thought we did a better job of that on the outside today."
The big plays on offense wasn't the only difference Thursday. The staff is still tinkering with the offensive line, and Thursday the staff shuffled the No. 1 unit around. Redshirt freshman Kyle Thomas slid from left tackle to left guard, Justin Frye moved from center to left tackle, and center Chris Mangiero moved from the No. 2 unit up to the first squad.
"Kyle Thomas is a newcomer to the offensive line, and Justin Frye gives us the flexibility because can play center or tackle," Hoeppner said. "Maybe (Kyle's) a better guard. We need to find that out when we have some time…normally if you're a newcomer and you can physically hold up, it's easier to play guard because there isn't all that space."
Hoeppner is also hoping to get his offensive linemen to the point that they can play more than one position. While the offense has plenty of depth at wide receiver, running back and even quarterback, the offensive line is an area where depth remains an issue. One of the ways IU hopes to address that is by having a No. 1 unit that features players that can play more than one position.
"That's part of our goal to develop guys," Hoeppner said. "Have 10 ready to play, but have them be guys who can play not just left guard, but maybe play a couple positions."
The Hoosiers have just a handful of opportunities to look at those things this spring, with five practices remaining. Two of those five practices will be public scrimmages, as Indiana hosts the Pancakes and Pigskins scrimmage Saturday (breakfast at 8:30 a.m., scrimmage at 10 a.m.) and the annual Cream and Crimson game Friday, April 15, at 4 p.m.
"I wish we had a couple more weeks to do this," Hoeppner said. "These 15 go fast. We have to make them count."
- Members of the 2006 recruiting class continue to make appearances at practice. On Thursday, Bloomington (Ind.) South quarterback Ben Chappell and Indianapolis Lawrence North linebacker Will Patterson were both in attendance.
- during 7-on-7 drills, the Hoosiers three quarterbacks were a combined 5-12, with Lewis going 3-4, Powers 1-4 and McFarland 1-4. Powers appeared to have another completion to Lance Bennett downfield, but safety Eric McClurg delivered a huge hit to separate Bennett from the ball.
- The battle at running back continues to be waged. Junior Josiah Sears is joined by sophomore Marcus Thigpen and redshirt freshmen Demetrius McCray, Bryan Payton and Justin Carrington. Thigpen is the current No.1, followed closely by McCray who has also gotten plenty of work with the No. 1s. One of Hoeppner's biggest concerns with the group is making sure they're able to be a part of the passing game, not only as a receiver but more importantly in the blocking schemes.
"Pass protection is the hardest thing, physically and mentally for a running back," Hoeppner said. "If the defense just lined up and played it straight or blitzed (it was be easier). But when they start doing all this and stepping around, now you have to sort that out as a running back.
"It's hard for the o-line, but that's their job. As a running back you have to figure out who to block and then phys8ically go take on a linebacker who is as big or in most cases bigger than me and he's running in with a head of steam. That's the biggest challenge."
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