BLOOMINGTON, IN - AUGUST 11th, 2021 - wide receiver D.J. Matthews #7 of the Indiana Hoosiers during fall camp at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN. Photo by Gracie Farrall/Indiana Athletics

Beyond Ty Fryfogle, the depth in the IU wide receiver room is strong

Indiana wide receivers coach Grant Heard was asked Friday if wide out Miles Marshall is ready for the responsibility that would seem to await him this season with Whop Philyor gone to the NFL but Ty Fryfogle still around after an All-American season. Marshall started last season and caught 19 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown, but the Hoosiers will likely need more than that from him this year.

But when Heard was asked if Marshall has embraced the responsibility of being the No. 2 wide receiver, he indicated that there was a faulty premise in the question.

“I hope not,” Heard said. “I hope that he embraces that he’s a No. 1 receiver. Because ultimately, Ty made a bunch of plays, so Ty’s not going to sneak up on anybody. So really, we have to have a bunch of No. 1 wideouts out there. Ole Miss tried to take Ty away in the (Outback Bowl). That’s what they did. We have to make sure we have players across from him that are going to make plays and feel like they are the first option on every route and have that mindset to when the ball comes to them, they’re not surprised. They should expect the ball to come to them on every play.”

Marshall, for one, is embracing that idea. Heard wants him to be a little better at making catches in traffic, but he’s impressed by Marshall’s ability as a 6-foot-4, 208-pound target and his understanding of the playbook that allows him to play either outside receiver position or even to move inside if the situation called for it.

“He can play any position,” Heard said. “Somebody goes down, I need to flip somebody, he knows the whole playbook inside and out, so I feel comfortable with him moving him around and playing different spots.”

And as much as Marshall understands Fryfogle’s talent, he isn’t intimidated by it and doesn’t pigeonhole himself as a second fiddle.

I wake up every morning and tell myself I want to be the best receiver on the field,” Marshall said. “It is no disrespect to Ty or anyone else in our group, I just want to be the best receiver on the field. I want to go to the next level and for me to go to the next level, I have to be the best receiver on the field. That is how we compete with each other. Ty wants to be the best receiver on the field, as well, and we just compete and get better that way.”

It doesn’t stop with Marshall, and Heard doesn’t want it to. The coach loves what he’s getting so far from Florida State transfer D.J. Matthews, who at the moment owns the top spot on depth chart at the slot receiver position where Philyor was so effective last year. The 5-7 Matthews lacks size but has blazing speed and quickness and mastered the Hoosiers’ playbook quickly.

I just think he is a quick little jitter bug that gives us some juice that we need on this offense,” Heard said. “… He’s a sharp kid, very intelligent. Good to go with the playbook. Now it’s just more trying to refine some of the stuff and getting it to the way we want it done. Every once in a while, he reverts back to those Seminole ways and so I’ve got to remind him ‘You’re a Hoosier now’ and we do it this way. He’s done awesome. The first day I saw him, he’s done some stuff route wise that they didn’t do over there that he naturally knows how to do so he’s making my job easier.”

So too are the players behind that top 3. Redshirt junior Jacolby Hewitt and sophomore Javon Swinton made big catches in key moments off the bench in the season opener against Penn State last year and have shown big-play capability during periods of practice open to the media so far this preseason. Freshman Jacquez Smith and Malachi Hood-Bennett have also had big moments, and the group as a whole has proven effective at winning battles for the ball over Indiana’s defensive backs.

Indiana coach Tom Allen called the contested catches one of the highlights of Wednesday’s practice. Heard said when the ball goes up, the receivers are inspired by the words of the oversized bully character in the movie “Friday.”

“It’s a big emphasis,” Heard said. “These defense in this league are good. … Contested catches happen. We put a big emphasis on those. When you get a ball thrown at you, you have to attack the ball. We call it the Deebo Mentality, like, ‘That’s my bike, punk.’ We have to get the ball when it’s thrown to us.”

Heard thinks he has enough players with that mentality to have a strong wide receiver room that goes beyond the three players he will run out as starters, which is necessary in the Big Ten.

I feel like I there are six or seven guys that we could put in there and feel comfortable that they can go in and make a play and know what we are doing,” Heard said. “It’s awesome because every year I’ve been here I’ve lost one for a game or a season. Big Ten football is rough, and it’s called Big Ten football for a reason. We are going to have to have depth and you’re always going to have to be on alert and ready to jump in there and make a play. It just makes me feel better because if something happens, if someone is tired, someone is dinged up, whatever the case may be, I don’t have to scramble about who’s going in next.