Bloomington – There's been a lot of talk about new "experiences" with the Indiana football program, and I got one yesterday.
At the invitation of the IU football staff and IU Football Media Relations Director Jeff Keag, a handful of local media were welcomed to experience a full two-a-day with the program.
That didn't involve simply observing the day's two practices. Instead, that meant sitting in on coaches' meetings, film sessions, position meetings and meals. It meant laughing along with the rest of the team at a film clip of assistant head coach Dennis Springer getting hit in the back of the head with a pass (explanation to come later), and it meant sampling the Moosetracks ice cream that Director of Football Operations Harold Mauro says is the rage among Bill Lynch's players at snack time.
It also meant getting out of bed long before the sun came up and returning home long after it went down, and it made it clear you can get a whole lot better look (and appreciation) for what goes on with a major college football program by taking a look from the inside instead of always trying to do so from the outside.
So what was there to get out of 15 hours at the newly renovated Memorial Stadium (besides three square meals)?
The day was instructional. We gathered with the quarterbacks for an 8 a.m. position meeting, where Coach Matt Canada broke down film with his seven signal callers and discussed everything from footwork to the day's play script. Canada also had his signal callers go to the dry erase board to map out formations and routes and then explain them to us, providing us with additional insight and Canada with proof that his players can explain what they're seeing on the field.
We learned there isn't a detail that goes unnoticed or unaccounted for at camp. We saw how a wide receiver has to "stay on their line" and not fade to the sideline on their route to avoid making a throw too difficult for the quarterback. We learned how there's a precise yardage that IU's defensive coaches want their players to sink to when they're in zone coverage, and how there's a formula for how much ground a defensive player can make up while the ball is in the air.
We even learned that co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic still has some pretty good wheels, evidenced by his racing some 55 yards up the field during an 11-on-11 team session in the afternoon, seemingly ready to lead block for Ray Fisher after he had cut under an IU wideout at the goal line to come away with an interception.
Going along with what we saw from Palcic, the day was also occasionally comical. After grabbing a quick bite to eat at 6:45 a.m., we joined the offensive coaches in wide receivers' room 15 minutes later as they analyzed tape from the previous day's practice. Midway through the film session a weary Matt Ernest blindly opened the door, saw a few too many unfamiliar faces, and then blurted out "Oh Boy" before retreating out to the hallway to gather his senses.
Midway through the afternoon at the secondary position meeting, it was safety Austin Thomas that had everyone laughing. The senior was a late arrival for the day's second position meeting because he'd returned to the team hotel at lunch, but had been left behind when it was time to come back to Memorial Stadium. That left him with no choice put to start walking back before a compassionate passer-by picked him up and gave him a ride the rest of the way.
And then there was Springer's moment. During the afternoon special teams session, a snap slipped through the fingers of holder Adam Follett on a field goal attempt and wound up in kicker Nick Freeland's mitts. Freeland rolled right in an effort to make something out of the botched play, and fired a pass to the closest person wearing a similar colored jersey. But that person was Springer, who's head was pointed in the opposite direction. Freeland fired the pass anyway, drilling Springer in the back of the head to launch both sidelines into laughter and drop Lynch to the turf for the same reason.
Besides being instructional and comical, I'll be the first to admit the day was also demanding. Getting to work before the sun comes up was probably enough to scare off a handful of others who might have otherwise accepted the invitation, and the 15-hour day was enough to send one media member back home midway through the day and had another skipping a meeting or two (obviously, they didn't subscribe to the notion that special teams is every bit as important as offense and defense).
But more than anything else, the day was revealing - revealing about what's involved being a player, coach, or staff member with the IU football program on a day-to-day basis. It's the kind of glimpse that fans never get into the teams they love, and one that the media really doesn't get, either.
At least not until yesterday.
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