Hoosiers Look To Be Offensive

With the start of fall camp less than two weeks away, IU Assistant Head Coach Bill Lynch takes a position-by-position look at which players can emerge, and what can be expected from the IU offense this fall...

Bloomington, Ind. – The Hoosiers are hoping to be even more offensive this year than they were a year ago.

IU Coach Terry Hoeppner has visions of an improved defense and a vastly better kicking game, but he also wants the Hoosiers to put points on the board in bunches. A season ago the Blake Powers-led attack amassed a school-record 24 touchdown passes while averaging 350.8 yards/game.

The hope is the Hoosiers can build on last season's offensive success for an even more explosive attack in 2006.

For that to happen, though, a handful of questions need to be answered. The offensive line is most pressing, thanks to the departure of Isaac Sowells and Adam Hines and a shortage of numbers a season ago. In the offensive backfield IU must replace a pair of veterans in Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington. And for all of Powers' successes a year ago he struggled down the stretch, throwing 12 interceptions during IU's 1-7 Big Ten campaign.

IU Assistant Head Coach Bill Lynch recently sat down with HoosierNation.com to talk about the offense, breaking down the unit by position:

Junior Blake Powers returns for his second season as the Hoosiers' starter. Powers completed 56 percent of his throws for 2,305 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago, while also adding four touchdown runs as well. The most glaring problem a season ago was the 16 interceptions he threw, the most by any starting quarterback in the Big Ten.

Lynch believes last year's experience will help Powers blossom into an even more dangerous threat in 2006.

"You hear a lot about it at the NFL level, that it's so hard to play as a rookie, and then the next year they're better," Lynch said. "I think it's the same at the college level. That position, it's a fast game. I think the speed of the game is so different at each level.

"At quarterback, I think it's more so there than any other position, with everything that goes into it – especially if you're going to be a passing football team."

This fall will also mark Powers' second straight season in the same offense, a first for him at the collegiate level. As a true freshman Powers worked under offensive coordinator Al Borges, and as a redshirt freshman the offense was run by Steve Addazio. Now, he'll be working in Hoeppner's system for a second year, and with quarterbacks coach Matt Canada for a third season.

"I think a guy like Blake is going to make tremendous strides with each time out," Lynch said.

Offensive Line
There's little question the biggest obstacle to IU's offensive success could be the offensive line. Thanks to the graduation of Hines, Sowells and Brandon Hatcher, IU lost three starters. Some previous miscues on the recruiting front also left the current staff without much quality depth waiting in the wings.

The future appears bright thanks to the signing of seven offensive linemen in the '06 recruiting class, but it's a bit of stretch to think more than one or two of those seven will be physically up to the task of playing this fall. That's left offensive line coach Bobby Johnson scrambling and juggling his current crop of linemen to see what combinations worked best.

"If you look at our spring practice, the combinations Bobby went with changed dramatically day to day," Lynch said. "So that's going to affect performance on a day-to-day basis."

From Chauncey Incarnato to Kyle Thomas to Scott Anderson, players moved from guard to tackle and even to center during the spring months. Those day-to-day changes resulted in some breakdowns and some blown assignments early on, but Lynch said the progress was apparent by the time camp came to a close.

"I thought they made great improvement," Lynch said. "I think by the end of spring, Bobby had a good feel for who fits where. That was really important for us to figure out where guys fit because there are new faces to with the guys who have played."

Among the players who figure to be contributors up front are returning starters Chris Mangiero and Justin Frye on the interior, along with Incarnato, Thomas, Anderson, and Johnathan Sandberg. True freshman Cody Faulkner is also expected to challenge for playing time, as could 6-6, 310-pound freshman tackle Pete Saxon.

Wide Receiver
One spot where there aren't a lot of questions is wide receiver. Other than James Hardy's off-the-field domestic battery case, Indiana heads into the fall with very few unknowns at receiver.

"From a depth standpoint and a competitive standpoint, offensively, that's our strong point," Lynch said. "We have, what we think are some really quality players that have played football. James (Hardy) and James (Bailey) haven't played a whole lot but played last year and performed pretty darned well. Jahkeen (Gilmore) has played quite a bit and performed well. Brandon (Walker-Roby) got to play as a freshman, and then you add to that mix some guys that are pretty talented."

As redshirt freshmen, Hardy (61 catches, 893 yards, 10 TDs) and Bailey (27 catches, 335 yards, 3 TDs) were big targets for Powers, while Gilmore (30 catches, 383 yards, 3 TDs) added a big physical presence who could also play the slot. Walker-Roby caught 10 passes and had two touchdowns of his own as a true freshman, and the unit gets even deeper this fall with the debut of redshirt freshmen Nick Polk, Andrew Means, Terrance Turner and Chris Banks.

"Polk is going to be a really talented guy," Lynch said. "Ryan Skelton, playing that position for another year is a great benefit to him. Lance Bennett became healthier so he could practice on a regular basis and he showed he's got some things to offer. Banks, Turner, Means – all those guys showed they can be competitive."

Running Back
Hoeppner's spread attack might be best known for its ability to spread the ball around the field through the air, but it also provides plenty of opportunities for tailbacks to be productive as well. A year ago the Hoosiers averaged 131.4 yards/game on the ground, led by Chris Taylor (156 carries, 740 yards, 4 TDs) and Yamar Washington (127 carries, 443 yards, 1 TD) leading the way.

Both Taylor and Washington are gone, leaving the job wide open this fall. It appears to be a two-man battle for the starter's role between sophomore Marcus Thigpen and Demetrius McCray.

Thigpen was a highly productive tailback as a prep in Detroit, but spent the last two seasons as a wide receiver for the Hoosiers. Despite starting at wideout a year ago, the team's abundance of depth at the position prompted a move back to tailback this spring.

"The move of Thigpen, it's good for him and good for us because we had depth outside," Lynch said. "He's a guy you try to get the ball in his hands because he can make things happen. It's easier to somewhat guarantee getting the ball in his hands at tailback more so than at wideout because at wideout you can't control the coverage or what they're doing on the other side."

While Thigpen brings track-caliber speed to the position, McCray brings speed and the sort of elusiveness Indiana has lacked in recent years. His ability to make would-be-tacklers miss figures to give opposing teams headaches.

"McCray is a guy the staff was really excited about when we recruited him," Lynch said. "To have the ability to redshirt him will benefit him and us in the long run. He has a great future."

There's depth beyond those two as well. Converted fullback Josiah Sears gives IU a potential goal-line back, and redshirt freshmen Bryan Payton and Justin Carrington also showed plenty of promising signs during the spring.

"It's a little like the offensive line in terms of we had two guys (Taylor and Washington) who played a ton of football that are gone," Lynch said. "But from a talent standpoint, we think we have some really talented players."

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