1. Max Dedmond, TE – A year ago, Indiana's tight ends combined for only five catches in 12 games. In 2006, nary a single pass was caught by an IU tight end. Rest assured, that statistic will change in 2008. Troy Wagner might start fall camp as the team's No. 1 tight end, but redshirt freshman Max Dedmond is the tight end who will be a difference maker in the passing game.
The 6-5, 240-pounder from Evansville (Ind.) Central H.S. was a big part of the passing attack in the spring. Unlike most of IU's tight ends in recent years, Dedmond displayed excellent hands, athleticism and play-making ability. While it was Ben Chappell who was running the No. 1 offense in the spring and getting the ball to Dedmond, there's little doubt Kellen Lewis will also make good use of Dedmond this fall.
2. Darius Johnson, OLB – This 6'0", 235-pound redshirt freshman isn't going to supplant Will Patterson or Geno Johnson in the starting line-up, but position coach George Ricumstrict likes to rotate his linebackers throughout the game, and this means Darius Johnson is going to get a chance to contribute.
This Detroit native was one of the most pleasant defensive surprises during the spring and worked his way onto the No. 2 unit. He'll back up Patterson as the team's strongside linebacker, and he also figures to be an oft-used player on special teams as well. He has excellent size, can deliver a big hit, and has drawn plenty of praise from both Ricumstrict and head coach Bill Lynch during the summer months.
3. Tandon Doss, WR – The Indiana staff was ecstatic when it was able to lure running back Darius Willis to town, but they were equally excited when they received news of Doss' commitment. The Ben Davis H.S. standout didn't generate the same sort of recruiting buzz that Willis did, but the thought on the IU staff is that he has a chance to be a difference maker.
Playing time won't be as plentiful for the freshman wide receivers as originally thought because Andrew Means decided to come back and play one more season with the football team. But IU still figures to rotate as many as five wide receivers this season, which frees up opportunities behind Means, Ray Fisher and Terrance Turner. The 6'3", 185-pound Doss has an excellent chance of being a part of the rotation.
4. Darius Willis, RB – At the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon last week, Bill Lynch said he planned to continue to use a rotation at running back this season. That statement all but assured that this 6'0", 220-pound freshman tailback from Indianapolis' Franklin Central H.S. will play as a true freshman.
Marcus Thigpen (138 carries, 564 yards in '07) figures to be the No. 1 option, while Bryan Payton (90 carries, 381 yards, 4 TDs in '07) also has plenty of experience and should be the No. 2 when the team enters and breaks camp in a couple of weeks. Demetrius McCray and Trea Burgess also have experience and will get a chance to contribute. But Willis appears to have a combination of skills that no one else in the group possesses. He has the speed to produce big plays if he gets in the open field, but he has the size that Thigpen lacks. If he proves to be adept enough at reading holes, he'll work his way up the depth chart as the season goes along.
5. Donnell Jones, CB – It's not a foregone conclusion that Jones will start opposite Chris Phillips, but it appears to be a pretty good bet. This 5'10", 205-pound cornerback will be pushed by Richard Council, Chris Adkins and Adrian Burks, but he has a combination of speed and size that the staff likes. He's a very physical corner who isn't afraid to deliver a big hit to a wide receiver or ball carrier, which will be a noticeable change from the wideouts IU fielded a year ago. Jones was a last-minute addition to the Hoosiers' 2007 recruiting class, and it was apparent very early in last year's fall camp that he had a chance to be a contributor early in his career. With Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors gone, that time appears to be now.
6. Fred Jones, DE – As is the case with Darius Johnson, Jones isn't about the unseat the man in front of him on the depth chart. This 6'4", 265-pound Tyrone, Ga., native is behind Greg Middleton at one of the defensive end spots, and Middleton is once again expected to be one of the Big Ten's most dominant pass rushers.
But defensive line coach Brian George also likes to rotate defensive linemen to keep players fresh, which should result in some playing time for Jones. While last year's starters Middleton and Jammie Kirlew got the most reps in 2007, back-ups Ryan Marando and Brian Faires combined to contribute 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks as well. That's good news for Jones, who is a towering presence at defensive end. He's added nearly 25 pounds from a year ago, so he'll be much better equipped to tangle with Big Ten offensive linemen. He looks the part of being an imposing presence at defensive end, and now he'll get to play the part as well.
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