Bloomington – Indiana's secondary concerns have become primary for the IU coaching staff.
As Indiana begins preparing for Saturday's Big Ten opener against Michigan State, it will be doing so with three-quarters of its opening day starters in the defensive backfield on the sidelines. Freshman cornerback Chris Adkins is the only one of the four who appears likely to play in Saturday's game, which kicks off at Noon at IU's Memorial Stadium.
The most significant loss is cornerback Chris Phillips, who has been lost for the season with a knee injury. Free safety Nick Polk has been ruled out of the game with a knee injury of his own, and strong safety Austin Thomas has yet to return to practice due to a lower leg injury suffered in practice 10 days ago.
"Austin Thomas is progressing," IU Coach Bill Lynch said Tuesday. "He's not going to practice today, but he's more active, can do more things, so we'll have to wait and see there."
If Thomas is unable to go, the Hoosiers will likely start senior Joe Kleinsmith at free safety and sophomore Jerimy Finch at strong safety. At cornerback, Indiana will likely go with a pair of first-year players in Adkins and Richard Council.
The situation at cornerback might seem like the most challenging obstacle moving forward. With the loss of seniors Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors after the 2007 season, Phillips was expected to lead a talented but unproven stable of corners.
Now, he'll have to do that from the sidelines. While most would look at the situation as a daunting challenge heading into the Big Ten, Lynch looked at it with a glass half full approach.
"Challenges or opportunities?" Lynch responded rhetorically after being asked about the challenge of having two first-year players at corner. "It's a great opportunity for a couple of young guys."
Lynch said he's also comforted by the fact that Adkins and Council separated themselves in the fall during an three-week long competition for the starting job opposite Phillips. Adkins won the second starting job, while Council played well enough to be rotated in during each of the first three games as well.
"It's not like we're sitting here going, ‘these guys aren't ready to play,'" Lynch said.
With three opening-day starters going down in the season's first four weeks, Lynch says it's the latest reminder that everyone on the roster has to continue to prepare as if they're going to play, because opportunity could be just an injury away.
"You preach to guys all the time, that's why they word so hard, that's why they are in the weight room, that's why they practice, that's why reps are so important," Lynch said. "You never know when your opportunity is going to come, and when it comes you have to be ready."
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IU's Primary Concerns in the Secondary
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