It's certainly going to be a busy four months until spring ball with lots to accomplish. With that in mind we take a look at some of the key items on the Hoosiers "To-Do List" this off-season. Today we feature the offensive side of the ball before tackling the defense on Wednesday.
Off-Season "To-Do" List
Fix the front at any cost
Here's what we know about the Hoosier offense heading into the 2010 season—they have a future All-Big Ten running back in Darius Willis. They have an offensive front line that struggled to open holes for him this past season and will be losing two key starters in Roger Saffold and Pete Saxon. James Brewer is just coming into his own and now has one final season to fully unlock his potential. The loss of Saffold and Saxon, though, weighs heavily on the Hoosiers. Saffold was a sturdy, dependable fixture on the blind side and Saxon spent his career filling whatever role was needed and doing it well. Their departures leave the blind side unprotected and without their best utility man and a key run blocker.
So how do you replace them? Are the players behind them ready to step up and not only take their place, but improve the unit? If so, we know precious little about those individuals at this point due to a lack of playing time. The Hoosiers biggest advantage is that they return their best all-around lineman in Justin Pagan, a 6-foot-5, 311 pound road-grader that is tailor made for the Willis era and the punishing between the tackles ground game that the Hoosiers have to make their own. The problem, however, is that most of the other linemen on the roster are more suited to pass protection than getting a surge off the snap and opening holes.
Because of the seeming severity of this problem one almost has to suggest that the Hoosiers give a long look to the JUCO ranks for immediate help. First and foremost, the player would have to be a quality individual whose character fit in with the Hoosier culture that Lynch has created and fostered. But he also needs to be a strong run blocker that thrives at exploding off the ball. Quite simply, a JUCO player might provide the quickest fix.
If suitable JUCO prospects don't present themselves, then the Hoosiers have to make sure they emphasize run blocking more than they have in the past by giving the most attention and reps to players that can pave a path for the talented Willis. He's clearly the Hoosiers' every down back in 2010 and has to be the focus of their offensive effort this off-season. IU's passing game will continue to shine thanks to Chapell and his receiving corps, but a bowl winning season depends on Willis having a break-out season. He can't do it without holes to run through.
Buy a tandem bike for Tandon
Put them in a dorm room with bunk beds. Have them share a locker. Give them walkie-talkies. Whatever can be done this off-season to increase the bond between Ben Chappell and Tandon Doss is for the best. The chemistry and understanding between Indiana's unquestioned leader and their best playmaker is of the utmost importance.
All kidding about co-habitation aside, making sure Doss is well-utilized and fully optimized is definitely a major to-do this off-season. It seems the Hoosiers are just scratching the surface of Doss' potential, a player that has no otherworldly physical gifts, but one very important, undeniable gift—a sixth sense for making football plays. He won't thrill you with his 40-yard dash or stun you with his leaping ability, but Doss' knack for making big plays by coming up with the right move at the right time is uncanny. It's why his chemistry with the man who will be delivering him the ball, Chappell, is so critical. When Doss zigs, Chappell needs to sense his coming zag. Furthermore, the IU coaching staff needs to spend a copious amount of time this off-season coming up with every conceivable method and offensive wrinkle for getting Doss the ball.
After largely ignoring the position as a pass-catching possibility for years, the Hoosiers seemed to grow more comfortable with targeting their tight ends this season. It was a start at least.
It might just be personal preference dictated by watching Dallas Clark work every Sunday, but you can't help but feel the Hoosier offense could benefit from making tight ends a bigger part of their passing offense. Considering how frequently Chappell had to deal with instant pressure this season, having a safety valve to dump the ball off to seems like a smart move. It's definitely one worthy of more attention during offensive planning this winter.
Sophomore Max Dedmond is the type of athlete who could excel in such a role. He caught 18 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown this past season, but is capable of a more expanded role. Quick-hitting pass routes that exploit the short-to-intermediate depths of zone coverages would provide more room for lanky wideout DaMarlo Belcher to work the sidelines and for Doss to work the rest of the field. Also, given that more opponents will be committing their linebackers to slowing down Willis at the line of scrimmage, it certainly seems like a opportune time to put more in the playbook for Dedmond.
Check out our "To-Do List" for the defense tomorrow…