Bloomington – With six games now in the books, Edward Wright-Baker and Mitch Ewald appear to be the only two newcomers with any shot at joining fellow true freshman Adam Replogle on the field this fall.
And in both of those cases, their chances of getting on the field appear remote at best.
The freshman who probably had the best chance of playing this fall was linebacker Damon Sims, who has been traveling with the team on road trips. But IU Coach Bill Lynch said now that IU is halfway thru its season, the Cincinnati product will likely preserve his four years of eligibility.
"Damon Sims was a guy we were preparing to play linebacker possibly," Lynch said Tuesday. "I'd say at this point we'll probably redshirt him."
The reason that Wright-Baker and Ewald remain as possibilities is that they are back-ups at positions of significant importance. Wright-Baker continues to be listed as Indiana's No. 2 quarterback behind Ben Chappell, while Ewald is behind Nick Freeland at placekicker.
Lynch wouldn't concede that the only way Wright-Baker will see action this season is if Chappell is injured, but it's obvious the IU staff is hesitant to put Wright-Baker on the field in anything other than a significant role. In a blowout win against Akron last month and blowout loss to Virginia last weekend the staff has opted to play redshirt freshman Adam Follett in relief of Chappell late in the fourth quarter.
"At Virginia, with the score at that score, we weren't ready to burn Ed's redshirt year to go in and get some reps," Lynch said.
While Wright-Baker's chances of playing might be long, if appears he'll continue to travel with the team on road games and could be pressed into duty under some circumstances, even though IU is about ready to enter the second half of the season.
"It's a balancing act between what's best for the young man and what's best for the football team," Lynch said. "With six football games left and where we're sitting, there's so much still in front of us. It's too early (to say Wright-Baker will redshirt) because that position is so important."
As far as the injury report is concerned, Darius Willis is no better today than he was a week ago.
The Hoosiers' starting tailback missed the Virginia game with an ankle injury, and he continues to be listed as "questionable" on the Hoosiers' injury report. That's the same status that he had last Monday, and he ultimately watched the Hoosiers' 47-7 loss from the sidelines.
Lynch said Willis did "a little bit" in Monday's non-contact practice, and the staff is hopeful the redshirt freshman will be ready for Saturday night. Also listed as questionable for Saturday is senior right guard Pete Saxon, who's also nursing an ankle injury. Saxon was unable to participate in Monday's practice.
"Right now, they're gimpy," Lynch said. "I don't read too much into it before we practice Tuesday. It's more by the time we get to Thursday."
Lynch would like to see some more big plays – from his team.
The Hoosier coach says there are three keys that the team has been focusing on this year as a key to success – winning the turnover battle, third down conversions and the battle of the big plays. On Saturday the Hoosiers lost all three of those categories, including a 9-to-1 disparity in big plays.
"Big plays" are defined as plays of 20 yards or more, and the only one Indiana had Saturday was a 27-yard pass play early in the third quarter. By that time Indiana was already trailing the Cavaliers 37-0.
Virginia, by contrast, had three runs of at least 20 yards and Cavalier quarterback Jameel Sewell had six completions of 20 or more.
Limiting those kind of big plays on defense will be big this weekend, but Lynch would also like to see the Hoosier offense get some big strikes as well to avoid the need by double-digit play drives.
"We have to find a way to get some bigger plays," Lynch said. "You get it by catch and run, you get it by the running game by breaking a tackle. Ultimately against the quality of defenses we're playing it's difficult to beat them with four and five yard plays. At some point they're going to get a stop and you're going to have to punt the ball."
The flu bug did hit the IU football team pretty hard last week, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Austin Thomas, Nick Polk, Matt Mayberry, Greg Middleton and Deonte Mack were among those who played on Saturday despite missing a significant portion of last week's practice time while they fought the flu bug. Lynch said he doesn't necessarily think the team has rid itself of the problem as it prepares for Saturday's game with Illinois.
Mayberry said he's back to 100 percent now, but it did impact his play over the weekend.
"During the game I was a little shaky," said Mayberry, who finished with eight tackles. "I'd say Tuesday and Wednesday (of last week) I was pretty sick but I'm feeling better now.
"I wasn't myself out there. I think the coaches know that, but that's no excuse. You have guys all across the country on campuses getting sick. You have to go out and play football."
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