Bloomington – Bill Lynch has a spring football roster of 85, but when spring practice opens Tuesday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, he'll begin the process of identifying his top 50 for next fall.
That's the number Lynch has in mind every spring as he gives everyone a chance to get reps, get evaluated and play their way onto the two deep.
"I think you want to find out who your top 50 players are," Lynch said Monday afternoon as his team prepared for the start of spring ball. "When you get back in August you have competition, but you don't have it like you do in the spring."
That top 50 will generally be the players who will make up the team's two-deep and the handful of players who will also be valuable parts of the special teams units. While there are players such as Jammie Kirlew and Kellen Lewis and Rodger Saffold who will obviously be a part of the team's plans next fall, the spring gives some of the lesser knowns and younger players a chance to show they're capable of contributing.
"In the spring, you lay it out and everyone gets to go, you set up drills where everyone gets to go and everyone is on tape and everyone gets evaluated," Lynch said.
It's also going to be an important time for some players to show off their skills as some new positions. The most notable of those players are seniors Kellen Lewis and Ray Fisher, last season's top passer and receiver, respectively. Lewis will be spending the 15 spring practices at wide receiver, while Fisher has moved from slat receiver to cornerback.
Lewis, who followed up a record-setting sophomore season with an disappointing and injury-riddled junior campaign, saw spot duty at wide receiver last season when Ben Chappell was under center. But the IU staff wants to get an extended look at Lewis at wideout on a full-time basis and not just as part of a dual-quarterback package.
"The biggest thing for us was to practice Kellen on the outside throughout the spring," Lynch said. "Kellen has played quarterback in this offense so long, we know he can come back and play it. But to find out where he really fits on the outside, we need to really practice him there and go to receiver meetings.
"Then we'll experiment from there about where all he lines up."
Fisher, meanwhile, has made the move to cornerback after catching a team-high 42 passes last year for 373 yards and a team-best five touchdowns. He's currently listed as No. 1 on the depth chart at corner opposite Chris Adkins, who started all 12 games last season as a redshirt freshman.
Fisher and Adkins will still need to prove themselves against a stable of cornerbacks that also includes Richard Council and Donnell Jones, but Lynch said having Fisher start off at No. 1 on the depth chart was the right thing to do since he was a starter on the other side of the ball.
"Ray has been a three-year starter as an offensive guy, and you don't move a starter, a three-year starter, to be a back-up out of respect to Ray," Lynch said. "If it doesn't work out, we know he can move back to offense in a heartbeat."
Those position switches aren't the only things that will make this spring football season as any in several years. In addition to those moves, Indiana will be experimenting with the "Pistol" offense as well, a modified shotgun formation where the quarterback is lined up three yards behind the center instead of the traditional seven in the shotgun formation.
Lynch said the "Pistol" formation would be an added package as opposed to a completely new, full-time offensive scheme. But it is formation that is more conducive than the traditional spread at being able to run the ball downhill, and that's something Lynch wants to see this spring and then on into the fall.
"I want to see us run the football better," Lynch said. "We're run it better every year we've been here, a little bit at a time. But so much of what it was year was big plays with (Marcus) Thigpen, where it was an 80-yard run, or Kellen running 60 yards. Not a consistent running game."
As Indiana focuses its attention on running the ball on offense, Lynch believes it will help the team accomplish a third goal – being better at stopping the run. The Hoosiers surrendered a respectable 171.7 yards/game on the ground a year ago, but had a couple games when teams ran at will. Iowa piled up 227 yards against the Hoosiers, Illinois rolled up 292, and Wisconsin went for 441. Not surprisingly, Indiana lost those three games by an average of 38 points/game.
"If we work hard to get better (at running the ball), it will make us better defensively against the run," Lynch said.
That's a lot for the staff to tackle in 15 spring practice, but it's a process and a time of year that Lynch says he enjoys.
"It's a time when you can teach and coach," Lynch said. "You can experiment, you can move guys around, and you do it all without worrying about game-planning for a game on Saturday. Every day is teaching and coaching and developing, and I think that's why all of us in coaching really enjoys the spring. And if you're a football player, you should enjoy the opportunity to compete and compete for a starting spot."
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Lynch Lays Out Goals for Spring Ball
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