Bloomington, Ind. – Bill Lynch knows exactly where Nick Polk will be playing next fall.
As for which side of the ball the 6-0, 212-pound receiver-turned-safety will be on, Lynch is confident it will once again be on defense.
But don't mistake confidence with 100 percent certainty.
"I've learned never to say (never)," Lynch said. "He might be a two-way guy. I think he's a really good safety and I think he'll get nothing but better there. But…he's a pretty good receiver."
After ranking third on the 2006 team with 32 receptions, Polk made the switch to free safety last spring in an effort to shore up the team in the secondary. He responded with 12 starts, 69 tackles, a team-high five passes broken up and two forced fumbles, and showed plenty of progress throughout the fall.
He'd certainly be expected to start again next fall, but the possibility of losing James Hardy and potentially Andrew Means (if he's drafted in baseball) could create an opportunity at receiver next season. And there's little doubt Polk could move back to offense if necessary and be one of the team's top pass catchers once again.
The biggest problem with Polk is that he's capable of starting on either side of the ball, and would be coveted by either of IU's position coaches.
"I'm not going to put it up to a vote in the team room," joked Lynch.
Lynch clearly likes the athleticism Polk brings to the defensive backfield, and he also likes some of his young wideouts such as Matt Ernest and Terrance Turner who figure to contribute next fall. Indiana also has a slew of wideouts coming in this year's recruiting class that figure to compete for playing time as well.
That makes Lynch confident – but not certain – he knows what's in store for Polk.
"He's a good football player, but I'd say he's a safety," Lynch said. "But…he's too good to say that's all he is."
One of the most valuable parts of the Hoosiers' December practice schedule is the opportunity it presents for their young players to get some reps, and a couple of players who have turned some heads are Donnell Jones and Fred Jones.
Donnell is a 5-10, 200-pound freshman cornerback from St. Petersburg, Fla., while Jones is a 6-4, 251-pound freshman defensive end from Tyrone, Ga. Both are being redshirted this fall, but both figure to be factors as soon as next season.
Donnell will have a chance to contend for a starting spot in the fall with the loss of Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors to graduation. He's joined by junior Chris Phillips and freshman Chris Adkins as the early front-runners to compete for those starting spots.
"He's a good player," Lynch said of Donnell. "We found him in the spring, and that shows you in recruiting, they are out there. You just have to beat on enough doors until you find them. He's made a good adjustment to school here."
Indiana will have both of its starting defensive ends back next year in All-American Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew, but Fred Jones has a chance to challenge for playing time as well in the Hoosiers' rotation up front.
"He's gotten bigger - I bet he's gained 25 pounds since he's been here," Lynch said. "He's starting to look like Middleton, and that's how we want those defensive ends to look."
Indiana moved J.T. Owens from safety to running back out of desperation, and now it appears he'll be staying there for the foreseeable future.
Indiana found itself in dire straits at running back earlier this season when injuries left a once bountiful crops of ball carriers woefully thin. Lynch said at halftime of the Minnesota game the staff was actually afraid it would run out of running backs and began drawing up plays for others who might be recruited to play the position if another player went down.
That prompted Owens to offer his services since he'd played some running back at Lawrence North H.S.
"He's a special teams guy, but you have to find the right spot for him," Lynch said. "There was a point where we were really banged up at running back, about 2/3 of the way through the season. (Demetrius) McCray was down, (Marcus) Thigpen was down, (Josiah) Sears was dinged up and (Bryan) Payton had a shoulder, and we were really running short of guys."
Indiana didn't want to burn the redshirt for either Zack Walker-Davis or Shawn Winston, so Owens made sense.
"I think it's a good fit. We'll keep him there through the spring," Lynch said.
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