1. How will Indiana use Darius Willis, and how will he hold up – Count me among the believers in Darius Willis. While it was only during limited duty in the spring, the redshirt freshman tailback appeared to combine all the traits anyone wants in a running back – breakaway speed, an ability to break tackles, and the ability catch the ball out of the backfield. In recent years IU has looked to two or three tailbacks whose strength might have been one of those categories, but Willis appears to have the complete toolset. It won't be easy, though, for Willis to win the No. 1 job with seniors Bryan Payton and Demetrius McCray vying for playing time as well. On top of that, Willis has had injury setbacks last fall and spring that have kept him off the practice field for a week or two, so durability could be an issue. But if he stays healthy, it will be interesting to see just how much Indiana looks to its crown jewel recruit from the 2008 class.
2. Is there a young wideout ready to step to emerge as a No. 1 target? – Indiana's top two wideouts are gone – Andrew Means (34 receptions) to professional baseball and Ray Fisher (42 receptions) to the defensive side of the ball where he's slated to start at cornerback. That leaves the wide receiver position in a certain degree of limbo for the first time in years. Terrance Turner returns after catching 29 passes for 289 yards a year ago, but has yet to show signs that he's a No. 1 type of wideout. Instead, that responsibility will likely have to fall to either Damarlo Belcher or Tandon Doss. Both played as true freshmen, ranking fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team in receptions. I'd personally watch out for Belcher. He has the type of size (6'5") that makes him very difficult for corners to match up against, and he's proven to be a big-play threat. Fall camp will be an important time for him (or Doss) to separate himself from the pack.
3. Is James Brewer as good as we've heard he is? – Junior James Brewer was arguably the most pleasant surprise to come out IU's spring practice. With a back injury seemingly bringing an end to Mike Stark's college career, IU's staff turned to the oft-injured Brewer to take over on the No. 1 unit. In what appeared to be a sink-or-swim scenario for the 6'8", 339-pounder, Brewer flourished throughout the 15-practice spring season. His play sparked not only confidence from the coaching staff, but also the type of confidence in himself that's been lacking during his three years on the sidelines. While there's a big difference between spring practice and the regular season, Brewer combines the size, strength and athleticism to be a very good player up front for the Hoosiers. Staying healthy remains a concern, but he has a chance to shore up the offensive line.
4. Is there any quality depth on the offensive line? – Indiana's coaching staff headed into the 2008 season feeling pretty good about the No. 1 offensive line, but uncertain about the second unit. That second unit took some early hits with injuries to Dennis Zeigler and Brewer, and the Hoosiers were forced to play musical chairs up front once injuries befell the No. 1 unit. The hope is that last year's pains will be this year's gains. Second-stringers like Andrew McDonald and Mike Reiter gained some valuable playing time and can contribute. Outside of that, depth is still a big issue. Alex Perry is still recovering from an injury and when he'll be back to 100 percent is still up in the air. Indiana will need to avoid injuries up front, or they'll need some players to emerge in fall camp as potential contributors.
5. Can Ben Chappell win a game in the fourth quarter? – No one doubts Ben Chappell's leadership capabilities. The junior from Bloomington has received ringing endorsements in that area from players and coaches alike, and is clearly the point man of the Hoosier offense. He'll bring some much needed stability to the quarterback position this season, something that was maybe lacking for the last year and a half while the Kellen Lewis situation unfolded. Now that he is the unquestioned No. 1 signal caller, he'll need to show he can orchestrate pivotal drives late in ball games if Indiana hopes to improve on last year's 3-9 mark. Chappell doesn't have the same sort of home-run capabilities that Lewis did, but as last season progressed he showed plenty of improvement as far as making good decisions, spreading the ball around, and avoiding costly mistakes.
6. Is Troy Wagner going to be as big a part of IU's offense as Lynch has suggested? – Over the summer, Lynch told me the two offensive players that made the biggest strides during the off-season were Brewer and Wagner. Everyone knows Brewer's importance with the loss of Mike Stark to a back injury and some questions about the depth up front, but indications are that this fifth-year senior will be a key player to watch as well. While Wagner doesn't figure to be a 30-reception type of tight end (the pass-catching duties at TE will likely fall to Max Dedmond), he is the extra tackle type of tight end that should help Indiana's ground game. Wagner is up to 6'5" and 275 pounds and the Hoosiers are committed to running the ball more often and with more success this season. That means a lot less four and five-wide receiver sets than IU fans have seen in the past, and a lot more tight ends on the field than in recent memory. Troy Wagner has waited patiently for four years to get his chance to play a big role in IU's success, and he'll get that chance this season.
Questions to Answer For IU Offense
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