Bloomington – Two people aren't overly dismayed about the loss of four-year starting left tackle Roger Saffold.
With Saffold now preparing himself for the upcoming NFL Draft, juniors Andrew McDonald and Josh Hager are now preparing themselves to possibly replace Saffold in the starting line-up. While Saffold's shoes are big ones to fill, excitement outweighs any degree of trepidation on both players' part.
"I came in here and Roger was starting as a freshman, I was thinking, ‘Well, I pretty much have no chance to start until he leaves,'" said McDonald, currently listed as the team's No. 1 one week into spring practice. "Now that he's gone, it's like a whole new world has opened up."
McDonald is battling with Hager, a 6'9", 301-pounder who has moved from right tackle to left tackle this spring. Like McDonald, Hager welcomes to chance to potentially spend more time on the field instead of the sidelines.
"Roger is a great guy and I loved played with him, but it's nice to have a spot open that we can fight for," Hager said. "It's anybody's game."
Saffold and Hager are not only battling for a wide open position, but they're also being judged by a new set of eyes. Former offensive line coach Bobby Johnson departed to join the Buffalo Bills' coaching staff during the winter, and he's been replaced on the staff by Mo Moriarity, a former IU assistant and long-time Indiana high school head coach. Moriarity is teaming up with Kyle Conner to coach the Hoosier offensive linemen.
Since arriving in Bloomington, Moriarity said he's already seen plenty of positives from both left tackles.
"What I'm seeing from them is like what I've been seeing across the board from my group, and that's outstanding effort," Moriarity said. "They are two talented kids, very athletic, good size. They want to do a good job."
Moriarity's assessment of Hager, McDonald and the rest of the offensive line is based on more than just the first couple of spring football practices. While he was coaching at Carmel (Ind.) H.S., Moriarity would often get game film from IU assistant coach Billy Lynch. His scrutiny of IU's front line only intensified after the offensive line position opened and it became a realistic possibility to join Bill Lynch's staff.
"I had a pretty good feel for the guys when I came in," Moriarity said.
For the players, though, it was a change after working with Johnson ever since they arrived on the Bloomington campus. Now, they're trying to prove they're the one that belongs on the field this fall.
"It's a good chance for me and Andrew," Hager said. "It was kind of like starting over fresh with a clean slate."
In addition to getting a clean slate, they've also gotten some new ideas from Moriarity during the early stages of spring ball.
"He moved is a little further off the ball for the depth, and that really that has a big implications for us," McDonald said.
I feel like it helps us have more momentum when we hit the d-line. He really emphasizes the wind up and having our hands low when we start off. Honestly, I really like the technique that he's teaching us. It feels more natural."
Hager, McDonald and the rest of the offensive line will be able to put those new techniques to greater use in the coming days as IU makes the move from being in just helmets to pads. That transition will give Moriarity and Conner a chance to see who's best suited to replace Saffold in the starting line-up, and it will give the offensive linemen a chance to do what they love the most on the football field – hitting somebody.
" I was tired of just running and doing all the drills, when we couldn't really hit anybody," Hager said. "It's nice to come back out and you can work off some of your anger. It's good to get away from class and be able to go legally hit someone without getting in trouble for it."
Saffold's Loss Creates Opportunity for Others
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