2008 Indiana Preview - Offense
Indiana RB Marcus Thigpen
Indiana RB Marcus Thigpen
Posted Apr 28, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Indiana Hoosier Offense

Indiana Hoosiers

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Indiana Preview | 2008 Indiana Offense
- 2008 Indiana Defense | 2008 Indiana Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Indiana Preview | 2006 CFN Indiana Preview 

What you need to know:
The IU spread offense made a few changes as it went to more of an up-tempo, no-huddle attack this spring. However, it did it with star QB Kellen Lewis suspended (he's back now), without key receiver James Bailey (he transferred), with top running backs Marcus Thigpen running track, and with seemingly most of the line injured. The offense will rely on shorter, quicker passes, which isn't really Lewis's game, and will work more with the running backs to get more of a ground game going. Who'll step up and replace the 16 touchdowns and deep play ability of James Hardy? Will the line be healthy? Can the running backs actually produce? This was a good scoring offense last year that doesn't have a lot of stars, but has a ton of question marks.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Kellen Lewis
265-442, 3,043 yds, 28 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Kellen Lewis
147 carries, 736 yds, 9 TD
Receiving: Andrew Means
48 catches, 559 yds, 0 TD

Star of the offense: Junior QB Kellen Lewis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior WR Ray Fisher
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman TE Max Dedmond
Best pro prospect: Junior RB Marcus Thigpen (as a kick returner)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lewis, 2) OT Rodger Safford, 3) Thigpen
Strength of the offense: RB speed, Lewis
Weakness of the offense:
Offensive line production & health, wide receiver


Projected Starter
It has been an interesting off-season for Kellen Lewis, the star quarterback who was suspended this spring and only reinstated mid-summer. Now that he's back, he'll be the leader of the Big Ten's third best scoring offense after completing 60% of his passes for 3,043 yards and 28 touchdowns with ten interceptions, while leading the way with 736 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. While he's not all that big at 6-1 and 185 pounds, the junior is tough and isn't afraid to take a pop. However, he has a problem with turnovers, always good for one pick a game, and will put it on the ground from time to time. He doesn't have a big-time arm, but it's good enough, and it's accurate. Most importantly, he keeps defenses on their heels with his running ability, tearing off 199 yards and two scores against Akron and rushing for 50 yards or more in six games.

Projected Top Reserves: With Lewis out this spring, it was up to 6-3, 232-pound sophomore Ben Chappell to run the no-huddle attack. While he's not a runner and he's an average passer, he was great throughout the off-season as he took charge and showed he could be the leader of the offense. With a live arm, he should be able to push the ball deeper, even though he hasn't done it much in practice and completed just one of two passes, with an interception, in his limited action.

Getting time as the number two quarterback this spring was Mitchell Evans, a safety last year who made 12 tackles with two interceptions. He's strictly an emergency option who'll be a major turnover machine if he's forced in, but he was solid when he got his chances in practice with good quickness as a runner and a live arm.

Watch Out For ... Chappell. Even though Lewis is the unquestioned No. 1, he's not all that big and he ran 147 times last year; he'll take some pops. Chappell is at the ready to step in and produce, and while he's not Lewis, he should keep the new offense moving.
Strength: Lewis. He's the one guy who can take the offense from good to great. Even though he'll be the key to stop in everyone's defensive game plan, he'll still produce.
Turnovers. Lewis will go through stretches when he'll have problems when he gets popped, and while his interceptions slowed down a bit late in the year, he spread out his ten. With his experience and as the leader, he can't make mistakes.
It's all up to Lewis to carry the offense ... again. Without James Hardy to throw to, he'll have to make his receivers better. While the idea will be to get more from the running backs to help out the ground game, Lewis is the most dangerous rushing option. Chappell can run the quicker no-huddle attack, but there's a big drop from the one to the two.
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starter
Senior Marcus Thigpen has been one of the nation's elite kick returners over the past few years and he was the second-leading rusher with 568 yards, but he didn't get into the end zone and he didn't bust off enough big plays using his tremendous speed. Only 5-9 and 190 pounds, he's not a banger, but he's a track star who's so good that he was in and out of spring ball so he could run on the IU team. While he's a decent receiver, catching 21 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns, he could be more dangerous when he gets the ball on the move.

Projected Top Reserves: While Thigpen is the decent veteran, the star of the running back show could be just getting off the bus. 6-0, 220-pound freshman Darius Willis is the team's top recruit with the size to be a pounder and the track-star speed to hit the home run. A state-championship caliber sprinter, he's also tough banging out 1,728 yards and 28 touchdowns last year. He's the special back the offense has been missing.

5-11, 200-pound junior Demetrius McCray has 4.4 speed and decent power, but he needs to get healthy after suffering a foot injury and missing most of last year after rushing for 138 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, in three games. The star recruit of 2005 has a little bit of experience and should be a decent third option when he's healthy, but he needs to carve out a role for himself.

5-9, 205-pound junior Bryan Payton is a serviceable back who finished third on the team with 381 yards and four touchdowns, and caught 12 passes for 69 yards. He's hardly flashy and he isn't going to break off many big runs, but he's a good between-the-tackles back and a hard runner.

Watch Out For ... Willis. Thigpen can be used in a variety of ways and could even be split out as a receiver, but he's not a 25-carry-a-game back. Willis is an instant upgrade for the running attack.
Strength: Speed. Payton isn't going to blow the doors off of anyone, but he'd be a decent second leg on a relay team with Thigpen, Willis and McCray. Those three can move.
Proven production. The idea is for the running backs to do more of the rushing work so Kellen Lewis doesn't have to. While there are good options and decent prospects, can any of the backs take charge?
Outlook: It all depends on whether or not Willis is the real deal. If he's the star back from day one, the running backs will be a plus. However, if he needs time, or redshirts, it's asking a lot of Thigpen to finally turn into a real, live, star running back who can carry a ground game. McCray has to get healthy to add more flash to the mix.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
So who replaces James Hardy, who led the team with 79 catches for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns? 5-9, 172-pound junior Ray Fisher is around nine inches shorter than Hardy, but he should be the team's No. 1 receiver after finishing second on the team last year with 52 catches for 482 yards and four touchdowns. A steady receiver with good speed, he blew up against Ball State with six catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns as he turned into a main target down the stretch, but he needs to stretch the field more and he has to get over a hip problem that plagued him this spring.

Part baseball player, part receiver, 6-0, 215-pound junior Andrew Means should be a key No. 2 receiver after finishing third on the team with 48 catches fro 559 yards. While he didn't get into the end zone, he averaged a nice 11.6 yards per catch and has been a consistent producer over the last two years.

With James Bailey, the team's fourth-leading receiver last year, leaving the team, 6-3, 200-pound sophomore Terrance Turner appears ready to become a major factor. An amazing athlete with the speed to stretch the field, he needs to get over the knee injury that knocked him out for the year after catching just one pass for 23 yards. He's still in needs of seasoning and experience, but he should eventually be a good one.

The new star for the passing game should be tight end Max Dedmond, a 6-5, 240-pound do-it-all redshirt freshman who caught everything in site this off-season and proved to be a tough blocker. He fights well for the ball and is the type who'll outmuscle his way for catches. While remains to be seen if he can be a field stretcher, he should be a reliable mid-range target.

Projected Top Reserves: One of the high risers this spring was Collin Taylor, a 6-0, 190-pound junior who should be a decent possession receiver from time to time. While he's hardly a special player and he's never going to be a No. 1 guy, he could grow into a reliable third or fourth short-to-midrange target.

Looking to make an impact is 6-2, 187-pound redshirt freshman Matt Ernest, an ultra-productive high school receiver who's physical and is just good enough to see time here and there behind Means. A nice recruit and a good athlete, he has the potential over the next few years to grow into a role.

Working in the mix at tight end will be 6-5, 255-pound junior Troy Wagner, a decent blocker who caught two passes for five yards. He'll mostly see time in two tight end sets, but he's just good enough to start if needed. He's not going to be a top receiver to count on for regular production.

Watch Out For ... the freshmen. The receiving corps isn't going to scare anyone, so it could use true freshmen Marquelo Suel, Tandon Doss, Tyler Adetona and Charles Love to become factors. At least two of them are going to be in the mix.
Strength: Short-to-midrange targets. There might not be a lot of home run hitters, and there certainly isn't anyone who'll keep a defensive coordinator up at night, but there a lot of decent midrange receivers, which is a good thing considering the new offense needs to make passes quickly and just past the line to keep things moving.
James Hardy. All Hardy did was catch 79 passes for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns while occupying every No. 1 corner and plenty of safety attention. The other receivers flourished in single coverage, and now they have to fight on without the Buffalo Bill.
Outlook: Call this the team's biggest unknown. It's not like there aren't reliable veterans, Fisher and Means have been major factors, and it's not like there isn't promise, Dedmond should be a good one, but there's no one remotely as good as Hardy to count on. There might not be a star No. 1 target, but the wealth will be spread around. It'll have to be.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: Let's start with who isn't hurt. 6-7, 292-pound sophomore Alex Perry is built like a tackle, and he's a great athlete and a fine talent, but he's not going to play on the outside; he'll take over for Ben Wyss at center. He bulked up over the last two years and should be better suited for the inside, but he'll need time before he can be a consistent quarterback for the front five.

Also healthy is sophomore Cody Faulkner at right guard, who'll take over for John Sandberg. The 6-5, 315-pounder was a top recruit a few years ago, but he hasn't come close to playing up to his potential. While he's supposed to be a great run blocker, he hasn't quite done it yet, and he hasn't done much in pass protection. The spotlight will be on.

The star of the line is Rodger Saffold, a 6-5, 306-pound junior at left tackle, but he's having problems with his hamstring. A great athlete who's physical enough to grow into more of an anchor, and while he's not an elite run blocker, he's good enough. He's the leader and the possible all-star, but he has to get healthy.

The bigger issue will be the health of 6-7, 292-pound sophomore Mike Stark, a physical right tackle who struggled at times before suffering a back problem. He was just starting to get into a role as a spot starter and a dependable backup before getting hurt, and he needs to be back to provide some stability on the outside.

Also banged up is 6-6, 320-pound junior left guard Pete Saxon, a big, improving all-around blocker who started every game last year, but is hurting with a shoulder issue that kept him out all spring. A starter since his true freshman season, he has been dominant at times, but he has to do a more consistent job against athletic pass rushers.

Projected Top Reserves: The question will be where Dennis Ziegler will play. A massive 6-7, 350-pound option somewhere on the right side, he saw time at tackle this spring but is far better suited for a guard spot. He's too heavy to be a steady pass rusher on the outside, but he has looked good for the running game.

Also shining this spring when he got his chance at key playing time is 6-5, 315-pound sophomore Jarrod Smith, who is a left guard, but showed off his versatility by being able to play center. He brings good size to the interior and could play either guard spot.

Watch Out For ... a lot of juggling. The injury situation was bad to begin with, and then the injuries kicked in and killed any continuity in spring ball. The reserves got some key work and will allow some changes in the depth chart throughout the fall.
Strength: Size. This is a big, big, Big Ten line averaging well over 300 pounds per man. There are some nice athletes on the outside, but for the most part, this group is built on bulk.
Health. Considering the new offense was kicking in this spring, having a solid line was a must. It didn't happen as seemingly everyone was hurt. If Stark, Safford and Saxon have injury issues throughout the fall, there will be big problems.
Outlook: The late Terry Hoeppner made a particular point to beef up the line first and foremost, and it shows with good size and excellent talent. However, injuries should be a problem across the board, while finding the right backups for the right spots could be a bigger issue if everyone isn't back healthy. Pass protection will continue to be a problem no matter what against the more athletic lines, but on size alone the run blocking should be better.
Rating: 6