Fifteen days of practice provided plenty of answers for the IU football coaching staff.
Quarterback Kellen Lewis showed he's ready to be even better than he was as a redshirt freshman, and Ben Chappell looks a more than adequate back-up. Former quarterback Blake Powers, meanwhile, appears to have made a smooth transition to tight end, where he could very well make that position a big part of the IU passing attack for the first time during the Terry Hoeppner era in Bloomington.
But four weeks of work didn't resolve all of the question marks. As IU heads into the off-season, there are still a handful of matters to be resolved either during summer workouts and/or during the August fall camp…
- who will be the starting safeties? A year ago, IU changed its defensive scheme to accommodate a plethora of quality safeties. In an effort to best utilize Will Meyers, Troy Grosfield, Austin Thomas, Josh Bailey and Eric McClurg, IU switched to a 4-2-5 formation where they dropped a safety into the box and got another quality player on the field.
As IU prepares for the 2007 season, the staff doesn't have the same sort of comfort with the last line of defense. Meyers, Grosfield, Bailey and McClurg are all gone, leaving only Thomas with any sort of experience. But who else will see playing time in the fall? Don't be surprised to a one-time walk-on and a converted starting wideout on the field more often than not in the fall. J.T. Owens was a walk-on a year ago who has since earned a scholarship and steadily progressed up the depth chart. He was one of a handful of true freshmen to earn playing time a year ago, catching the staff's attention with his play on special teams. He's continued to impress in the secondary, to the point he's expected to be in the safety rotation this fall.
The same goes for Nick Polk, IU's fourth-leading receiver last season who switched to free safety midway through spring practice. He was immediately inserted onto the No. 1 unit, and was able to use his athleticism to be a playmaker in the secondary. A starting slot receiver as a redshirt freshman in 2006, Polk figures to be a starter this fall. IU wouldn't have moved one of its most productive wideouts to simply provide depth in the secondary – the thought process is that Polk is going to be a regular on that side of the ball.
- who will be the team's starting center? There's no question the IU coaching staff feels good about what it has back on the offensive line, and the sort of depth it has with a talented group of redshirt freshmen who will be in the rotation. But…there's still some issues at center.
Ben Wyss entered the spring as the team's No. 1 center, while redshirt freshman Jarrod Smith was the No. 2. But some off-season position switches suggest there's some things that still must be sorted out. Before the start of spring drills, IU moved Jeff Sanders from tight end center and moved Alex Perry from tackle to center as well. By the time spring practice came to a close, it appeared Perry had supplanted Smith on the No. 2 unit. Both Sanders and Perry have added significant weight since a year ago – Perry is up to 285 (from 251), while Sanders has gained 20 pounds and is up to 255.
The center position certainly doesn't draw the sort of attention as a battle for quarterback or even the juggling IU coaches have done with the tailback position, but it will be one of the more important position battles to unfold in the fall.
- can IU find a punter? When Chris Hagerup enrolled at IU early so that he could go through spring drills, the thought process was that he would get some experience under his belt so that he'd be prepared to handle the team's punting duties in the fall. But an inconsistent effort during the spring raised some questions about whether he'll be the choice in the season opener.
One of the nation's top-ranked prep punters, Hagerup started extremely slowly in the spring. He struggled with shanks as he continued to work on a few issues with his technique. He did get better as the spring went along, and he averaged 44 yards/punt in three kicks in the spring game. That was a very positive sign, but he continues to waged in a battle with Michael Hines for the job. This is a spot that might not be settled until late during fall camp.
- Terry Hoeppner's status. The biggest question surrounding the program continues to be the status of Coach Terry Hoeppner, who sat out the entire spring practice season to tend to personal health issues. Rumors continue to swirl about when (and in some cases, if) he'll be back with the team, but the IU Athletic Department has been quiet on the subject.
The unfortunate reality of the situation is it will continue to have a big impact on the program. While IU did recently secure a verbal commitment form Ft. Wayne wide receiver Marquelo Suel and could be close to getting a second in-state commitment as well, it will be a challenge to recruit with the uncertainty of Hoeppner's status. While it's a very personal matter to Hoeppner, it's also one that recruits and their families will want to feel comfortable about before pledging to play in Bloomington. Perhaps that won't pose as big of a problem with in-state targets, but it will be a challenge to secure out-of-state verbals with the current cloud of uncertainty.
Some Questions Answered, But Others Remain
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