Bloomington – The opening day of fall football camp is often about the new faces on the roster, but IU's camp opener was more about a couple of old ones who were back on the field.
After missing the end of the 2008 season and spring football with ACL injuries, senior safeties Nick Polk and Austin Thomas were back in uniform and seemingly back to 100 percent as Indiana officially began its preparation for the 2009 season.
IU co-Defensive Coordinator and Secondary Coach Joe Palcic isn't shy about expressing his relief in having the two fifth-year seniors back in the mix.
"I'm so glad to have them back," IU co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Joe Palcic said. "They're smart players, they're talented players, they're experienced players, and when we lost them last year, it all went to hell."
Thomas was the first to go last year, suffering his season-ending injury late in IU's 21-19 upset of Northwestern. Polk, meanwhile, was lost after the next week's 37-34 loss to Central Michigan, and a bad season turned even worse in the final three games.
With Polk and Thomas on the sidelines for the final three weeks Indiana was routed by Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue by a combined 161-37. The defense, meanwhile, yielded an average of 546 yards in those three blowouts, including 601 to Wisconsin and 596 to Purdue.
"It feels wonderful to be back out here," Polk said. "I was more excited coming out of that tunnel and seeing my teammates out here and I get to strap up with them."
On Friday evening at the IU practice fields, that simply meant being in shorts and helmets with no pads as the team goes through the NCAA-mandated acclimation period. From there the team will soon go to shells before eventually going to full pads for the first time Tuesday.
When that time comes to go to full pads and start going full contact, both safeties are fully cleared and have a clean bill of health following their surgeries.
"I'm definitely back to 100 percent if not better," Polk said. "I was back to that at the end of the spring, early summer. I'm comfortable with the knee. It feels great."
Polk and Thomas were hardly the only players who were saddled with injuries either last season or in the spring, and IU Coach Bill Lynch was glad to see nearly all of them back on the field Monday. With the exception of defensive end Fred Jones (foot) and offensive lineman Alex Perry (knee), every other player on the 105-man roster was able to practice Friday.
"You think about our defense, in the spring Nick wasn't there, Austin wasn't there, Will Patterson wasn't there," Lynch said. "The last half of it (Tyler) Replogle wasn't there, (Jammie) Kirlew didn't practice in the spring. Those are pretty good football players, and to have them all out there at one time changes the whole look of the defense.
All of those players were welcomed sights by the staff, but Palcic was especially pleased to have his two veterans back in the fold after having them go down for a good portion of last season.
"If we're going to have a good season, they're going to be a big reason why," Palcic said.
FB CAMP: Day 1 Practice Report
Peegs.com Top Stories
Inside the Locker Room: Latest on IU searchA hot rumor on Xavier's Chris Mack is just one of the IU coaching search tidbits we'll run down along with our usual recruiting news in another jam-packed Inside the Locker Room…
Video: Spring Practice No. 6 highlightsPeegs.com video of the Indiana football team in action from yesterday's spring practice.
Hoosier Newsstand, Mar. 24Get the latest articles on Indiana basketball, football and other sports in today's edition of the Hoosier Newsstand.
Coaching Candidate Profile: Bryce DrewVanderbilt thought enough of Indiana native Bryce Drew to snag him from his alma mater last year. Drew rewarded the move with an NCAA tournament bid.
Peegs.comYesterday at 6:28 PM