Bloomington, Ind. – Terry Hoeppner's focus is not only getting his team prepared for the start of the season, but also making sure they get to the Sept. 2 opener healthy.
That's a big reason why when rain came 75 minutes into Monday morning's practice, the Hoosiers cut practice 40 minutes short, eliminating the 7-on-7 work and moving straight into 11-on-11 at the IU practice fields.
"I'm a big believer in getting them to the first game fresh with fresh legs and healthy," Hoeppner said.
While the rain did cut Monday morning's practice short, it did provide an opportunity for IU co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Joe Palcic to emphasize the importance of technique during both one-on-one and 11-on-11 drills. The slippery field added a new challenge to corners Tracy Porter, Leslie Majors, Chris Phillips, and others.
"It was good to practice in the rain for the defense, especially the defensive backs," Palcic said. "It changes the way you have to play. You really have to concentrate on keeping your feet underneath you. Otherwise, if those feet get outside the framework of the body, you start sliding.
"The receivers know where they are going – we don't. So that one-on-one period was important for us so they could get used to practicing under wet conditions."
The Hoosier quarterbacks tried to take advantage of the conditions, throwing a handful of quick sideline patterns to the likes of James Hardy and James Bailey in an effort to get them the opportunity to make a play in the open field. With the exception of one time when a Hardy move caused first-stringer Leslie Majors to slip, the corners did a good job of closing and wrapping up the IU wideouts without losing their footing.
"Playing in the rain, it teaches you to adjust to the weather," said Porter. "The grounds will be slippery, so we have to pay attention when we're closing in, when you go out for a break, keep your feet underneath you, so you don't slip."
The one-one-one drill has been one that has generally favored the quarterbacks and wideouts this fall, who have had the luxury of throwing without facing a pass rush. Palcic knows it's a tough assignment for any corner, but he also emphasizes to his corners their focus needs to be on not giving up the big play during the drill.
"Today was much better – we played with better vertical leverage, stayed on top of them, and didn't give up the deep route," Palcic said. "I told them in one-on-one, we're simulating that we are blitzing – we're in man coverage. We're going to be bringing pressure (in game situations), so don't get beat for the touchdown, let them throw underneath, catch, tackle and get off the field."
Palcic is looking for improvement from last year's starters Majors and Porter, both of whom appear to be locked into No. 1 spots this fall. While they're consistently challenged by Indiana's deep and talented group of wideouts, ultimately Palcic thinks that will pay dividends when the season starts Sept. 2.
"I know one thing – when I was little, my dad used to drop me off and say go play basketball against these older guys," Palcic said. "The better the competition, the better you're going to be. The same holds true with our corners.
"We have a wide variety of wide receivers. You have James Hardy and Jahkeen Gilmore, which are big, physical guys. And then you've got speed guys. So we're seeing a range of different types, so we get used to it. Sometimes you're going to line up against a 6-4, 220-pound guy, and other times you're going to go against a speed guy. You have to be able to play that technique against both."
While IU has the luxury of a deep stable of wideouts to throw at teams this fall, Palcic is still trying to find out who can contribute at corner this fall. Majors and Porter are the likely starters, while sophomore Chris Phillips has emerged as the team's likely No. 3.
"Chris Phillips has really emerged as the next guy in on either side," Palcic said. "He has a big, physical presence. Tall, long arms. He's been around the program for a while – I feel comfortable with him playing, where as last year I don't know if we felt as comfortable putting him in."
Palcic would still like to see at least one more corner emerge, though.
"You'd like to have two-deep on both side," Palcic said. "So we'd like to go in with four guys, and we're still waiting for that fourth guy to emerge. It might be Joe Kleinsmith, who we moved to safety - he played corner in the spring, he could be a swing guy.
"We'll probably travel five or six with (using some of them on) special teams. Hopefully as the year goes along, you feel comfortable with any one of those five or six. Right now, we have three."
News and Notes:
- despite the shorter-than-normal practice Monday morning, there were more true freshmen who received reps with the No. 2 units than during the first week. On offense, offensive linemen Mike Stark, Pete Saxon and Cody Faulkner worked in with the second unit, and on defense linebackers Will Patterson and Mandela Roberts each worked in at outside linebacker.
- another new face to work with the No. 2s is redshirt freshman Keith Burrus, who is seeing time with the No. 2 defense at right end. He's been splitting time with Neal Jones and Brian Faires.
- don't rule out Josiah Sears as a contributor at tailback this season. The No. 1 job figures to be a battle between Demetrius McCray and Marcus Thigpen, but Hoeppner likes the power the 240-pound Sears brings to the table. While McCray and Thigpen can do the most damage with their speed and elusiveness, Sears is a ball carrier who relishes contact. That was obvious Monday during a 20-yard gain on a screen pass, where he finished off the run by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow to IU corner Leslie Majors.
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