Bloomington – Bill Lynch says you shouldn't let Darius Willis' absences fool you.
The only thing that seems capable of bottling up the Hoosier sophomore tailback is the rash of injuries that he's been forced to deal with during his two-plus seasons on campus. They kept him from having a legitimate chance at playing as a true freshman two seasons ago, and they kept him sidelined for three games last fall.
"Sometimes you have guys that get injured and can't practice because of…whatever," Lynch said, hinting that a lack of toughness keeps some from returning to the field as fast as others. "But his are all very legitimate injuries.
"He's really a tough football player."
He's also a hungry football player, someone who's anxious to shed the injury-prone label that he's been saddled with since arriving in Bloomington. During that time he's been forced to deal with shoulder, knee, ankle and hamstring injuries, with the last on that list what's limited him in camp during the last week.
"Injuries are going to come and go," Willis said. "It's the sport we live in. I'm going to deal with it and try to improve so I don't have those injuries."
If he can do that it will provide a big boost to an Indiana offense that has plenty of playmakers. Despite missing three games last season Willis still led IU with 123 carries for 607 yards and six touchdowns, highlighted by his 16-carry, 152-yard, two-touchdown performance at Michigan.
When he's been on the field he's proven to be a powerful runner between the tackles and an explosive one when he gets in open space, evidenced by the fact that he had three touchdown runs of at least 60 yards.
"It showed last year – we were a different football team when he played from an offensive standpoint," Lynch said. "We have to get him on the field. That's the biggest thing."
To make sure that happens, Willis has been doing what he can from a variety of angles. He's made a concerted effort to eat better, and he's also been religious about following the training staff's recommendations during his down time to speed up his recovery. He's been spending the last several practices on the exercise bike instead of on the football field, but says he anticipates a full return by the end of this week.
Lynch, meanwhile, has also toned down the amount of full pad work and full contact practices that the team has had this fall, all with the goal of keeping players like Willis on the field more often than they're off it. Even when Willis has been healthy they've also given plenty of first unit reps to IU's other running backs such as Nick Turner and Trea Burgess.
When the season arrives there's a good chance that IU will continue to limit Willis' work, rotating running backs into the game to keep everyone fresh and players healthy. But Willis said if the time comes where Lynch needs him to carry the ball 20-plus times in a game, he plans to be ready.
"It's really whatever the coaches decide," Willis said. "I can't speak on who gets the ball. But if I get 25 (carries), I'll love it. The more the better."
Willis A Key to Hoosiers' Offensive Success
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