Big Ten Roundup: Indiana

Indiana finished 4-7 in head coach Terry Hoeppner's first year. The Hoosiers finished ranked No. 75 in total offense and No. 93 in total defense nationally. Hoeppner had to have surgery to remove a tumor from his head in the off season. The 2005 starting kicker moved to corner this spring to provide depth. Needless to say, there is plenty of room for improvement in Bloomington in 2006.

The offense will revolve around quarterback Blake Powers, one of seven returning starters on that side of the ball. The junior threw for 2,305 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, completing 56.4 percent of his passes. Eighteen of his touchdowns came in Indiana's first five games, however. Powers will need to show more consistency in 2006 if the Hoosiers are to make some noise.

Wide receiver is the deepest position on the team. Sophomore James Hardy was a standout last year, using his 6-foot-7 inch frame to catch 61 passes for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns. If Powers and Hardy both stay healthy in 2006, it should be expected that Hardy's numbers will be much better. Hardy has devoted himself to football full time now, dropping basketball as a second endeavor. Jahkeen Gilmore and James Bailey are set to start with Hardy in Indiana's three wide-out set. Bailey had an outstanding spring, and Hoeppner would welcome him to step up and take some heat off of Hardy.

As deep as Indiana is at wide receiver, they are quite unsettled at running back. Sophomore Marcus Thigpen finished the spring as the starter. He is a converted receiver with great speed, and could be utilized well in the passing game. However, Thigpen will be pushed by redshirt freshman Demetrius McCray, who has similar size and speed to Thigpen but is a more natural runner.

The offensive line is a collective question mark. Hoeppner inked seven offensive linemen on signing day, calling them his "seven blocks of limestone." Whether any of the seven are physically ready for playing time will have to be seen. One player that will definitely get playing time is Notre Dame transfer Chauncey Incarnato. He will likely be starting at one of the tackle spots by the first game. The other tackle will be either Scott Anderson or Justin Frye. Frye is the more talented of the two and also the more versatile. If Incarnato starts, it could push Frye into one of the guard spots. Center Chris Mangiero will anchor the line in 2006. He is a tough run blocker and has a non-stop motor.

Defensively the Hoosiers have a lot to prove. They return six starters but their best defensive player from last year, defensive end Victor Adeyanju, has moved on to the NFL. Kenny Kendal returns at end and likely will be matched with Charles Emerson. Of the pair, Kendal is the better pass rusher and Emerson the better run stopper. Redshirt freshman Neal Jones is more athletic than both and could take one of the starting jobs by the first game. Sophomore tackle Greg Brown is probably the team's best lineman. He combines good size and strength with a good first step.

Bad news befell the Hoosiers recently as they found out top recruit Vernon Smith, a junior college linebacker, will not be a part of the team in 2006. Smith was expected to be an immediate starter and his absence leaves a huge hole in the Indiana defense. Sophomore Geno Johnson is the only returning linebacker to have made more than 10 tackles last year. Johnson is slated to start after collecting 22 tackles in part time duty last year. The coaching staff is considering moving promising defensive end Jammie Kirlew to linebacker. Kirlew is one of the more athletic players on the defense and the hope is he could develop into the playmaker that the defense is so desperate to find.

The Hoosiers intercepted only seven passes last year. However, the secondary returns all four starters from last year and could develop into a team strength. Cornerback Tracy Porter led he team with three interceptions last year. He has tremendous speed but Hoeppner says he must become more consistent. The other starting corner, Leslie Majors, also has top notch speed, but he is smaller than Morgan and also not as refined. Free safety Will Meyers was second on the team last year with 84 tackles (7 for loss). He is the leader in the secondary and a very solid player. Strong safety Troy Grosfield is a good tackler. He missed spring practice with a knee injury but is expected back at full strength by fall.

Former walk-on Kevin Trulock finished the spring as the starting kicker. This came after last year's kicker, Joe Kleinsmith, was moved to cornerback. Kleinsmith made only 3-of-6 field goals last year, so his absence will likely not be felt too much. Punter Tyson Beattie returns. The coaches are looking for more consistency from him in 2006. Kick returner Lance Bennett is small (5-foot-6, 162 pounds) but very explosive. If he hits daylight he is awfully difficult to catch up with.

Hoeppner will need vast improvement from his defense in 2006 for the Hoosiers to make any noise in the Big 10. The schedule could allow four straight wins to open the season. But things could change quickly once the Big 10 season starts. Indiana's game at Illinois on October 7 could be the one each team will need to stay out of the conference cellar.

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