Bloomington – Indiana's crop of receivers will have a very different look this season.
The team's top two receivers are gone – one to professional baseball and the other to the other side of the ball. Andrew Means (34 receptions, 450 yards, 1 TD) passed up his final year of eligibility to focus his attention on the Cincinnati Reds' organization. Ray Fisher (42 receptions, 373 yards, 5 TDs), meanwhile, has moved to defense where he's expected to start at cornerback.
Indiana had also been counting on Kellen Lewis to be a playmaker at the wide receiver position this fall. But after making the switch to wideout in the spring and making significant strides during spring practice, Lewis was dismissed from the team during the summer and has since enrolled at Valdosta State.
Despite those losses, Indiana should be more productive at the wideout position this season compared to last.
The reason is the emergence of sophomores Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss, the versatility of junior Mitchell Evans, and the potential of a couple of youngsters, most notably true freshman Duwyce Wilson.
In Belcher and Doss, IU quarterback Ben Chappell has a couple of targets who quickly worked their way up the depth chart as true freshmen. Doss missed time last season with a shoulder injury as well as a knee ailment but still showed plenty of promise. His season was highlighted by an eight-catch, 107-yard, one touchdown performance in IU's 21-19 win over Northwestern.
Belcher, meanwhile, came out of virtually no where last fall to command plenty of playing time as well. The 6'5" Ft. Wayne product ranked fourth on the team in receptions (25) and third in receiving yards (337) and created some headaches for foes due to his size and ability to go up and make plays.
But Belcher and Doss aren't the only options at Chappell's disposal. There's also senior Terrance Turner (29 catches, 289 yards, 0 TDs), who is clearly the most experienced wideout in the bunch. Then, there's Evans, a player who creates plenty of intriguing opportunities for IU offensive coordinator Matt Canada to play with.
In his first two years on campus, Evans has shown off his versatility by playing safety, wide receiver and quarterback for the Hoosiers. A need on the defensive side of the ball two years ago had him on defense, where he had a couple of interceptions against Western Michigan. He then spent time at quarterback in the spring of 2008 due to Kellen Lewis' suspension before being switched to wide receiver last fall.
Other than an emergency move back to quarterback due to injuries to both Chappell and Lewis, Evans spent the entire '08 campaign at wide receiver and finished with nine catches for 129 yards. Expect those numbers to jump in '09. Indiana's coaches have long said that Evans was too good of an athlete to not have on the field, and their desire to get him on the field more is likely one of the reasons the move of Fisher to defense made so much sense.
In addition to his abilities has a pass catcher, Evans also ran the ‘Wildcat' offense on a couple of occasions last season and can be expected to do that again at times this fall. In addition, his background as both a high school and college quarterback opens up plenty of gadget play options for Canada.
The options at wide receiver don't end there. Plenty of eyes will be on true freshman Duwyce Wilson, the most highly-recruited player in IU's 2009 recruiting class. The 6'3", 190-pounder from Columbus East H.S. caught 49 passes for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and figures to challenge for playing time immediately.
My Take: While experience is a valuable trait on the football field, I think the younger the better when it comes to the Hoosiers' wideouts this fall. Doss and Belcher look like playmakers, a tandem that can create problems for opposing defenses. Evans, meanwhile, needs to be on the field more – he's too good of an athlete to be getting spot duty. One of the interesting situations to watch will be Wilson and whether or not he gets a chance to play as a true freshman. Much like last year's decision on Darius Willis, if spot duty is all Wilson would get this season then it would make sense to redshirt him. There also won't be as many opportunities for IU's wide receivers this year as maybe in years past as the Hoosiers move away from the four and five wide receive sets that they've been using and instead utilize the tight end more. That could also figure into what IU decides to do with Wilson.
IU Position Preview: Wide Receivers
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