Bloomington – As far as Justin Pagan is concerned, it's put up or shut up time starting this afternoon.
Following five days of football practice where the mission has been to get up to speed, Coach Bill Lynch's team goes full contact for the first time this afternoon at the IU practice fields. When you're a 6'5", 311-pound offensive lineman like Pagan, you welcome the opportunity to take on something other than a blocking sled.
"I can't wait," Pagan said.
This afternoon's full contact session will also serve as an opportunity to quiet some of Pagan's teammates. Players like 2008 first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Jammie Kirlew have used the first five days practice to occasionally suggest that Pagan and his fellow linemen won't fare so well when they're matched up against the defensive front four.
"Some of the defensive guys, they like to talk a lot like Jammie," joked Pagan. "He's a talker. They're saying to be ready, watch out, we're coming. So when we get the pads on, we'll see what happens."
Pagan appears ready for the challenge as a member of Bobby Johnson's starting offensive line. After being pressed into duty as a true freshman a year ago and bouncing around between a couple of different positions up front, the Chicago, Ill., native has settled in next to veteran Rodger Saffold as the team's No. 1 left guard.
Offensive line coach Bobby Johnson said if at all possible he'd like to keep Pagan at left guard for the duration of the season and avoid moving him around if the injury-bug hits. Time will tell whether he'll have that luxury, but he believes Pagan would benefit from being able to focus in on just one spot up front.
"He has a lot of ability, a very talented guy," Johnson said. "Being at one position I think will help him settle in and lock in. If I had to move him I could, but he's still a young kid, just a true sophomore."
Pagan might be only a year removed from playing high school football, but he's as physically imposing as any offensive lineman on the IU roster. While his quick feet and the fact he's a quick learner are also important attributes, it's his physical maturity and physical nature that have allowed him to work his way onto the field a lot quicker than most college lineman.
This fall, he'll be able to put those physical attributes to even better use thanks to the Hoosiers' switch to a more ground-oriented attack. Last year's spread formation had Pagan and his fellow linemen in a shotgun stance more often than not. But this year, he'll be able to put a hand down more often and explode off the ball at the snap.
"They like (the idea of running the ball more)," Johnson said. "Anytime as an offensive lineman you can come off and be aggressive, that's a good thing."
That seek-and-destroy approach fits in well with Pagan, an out-spoken, out-going type who won't back down from a challenge – whether it's from an opponent this fall or from a teammate like Kirlew at camp.
"This approach is way easier than trying to beat someone with speed because we don't have a lot of speed – that's why we're offensive linemen," Pagan said. "It's a lot easier to just blow someone up."
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Pagan Ready to Blow Up
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