We saved the best for last with our 2018 positional previews. Indiana has built something of a reputation in recent years for producing high caliber offensive linemen, with Dan Feeney and Jason Spriggs at the top of the list.
The Hoosiers were relatively young up front in 2017 and struggled at times to establish the run behind a line that was hit hard with injuries. The silver lining was that not just starters but multiple tiers on the depth chart got experience — and they are all back.
Now the Hoosiers are fully healthy and returning 12 guys, most of whom have extensive experience. If the 2018 Indiana Hoosiers are a bowl team, it seems certain that it will be in large part due to a dominant offensive line.
WHO IS GONE
This one is easy. Danny Friend moved from tight end to the offensive line in 2017. He appeared in nine games.
That’s it. Everyone else is back.
WHO IS BACK
Wes Martin has started 25 straight games at left guard and has been described by offensive line catch Darren Hiller as the undisputed leader of this unit. He recorded the most pass blocking snaps (569) among guards nationally without allowing a sack en route to honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition.
Coy Cronk is another leader in the group and is a fixture at left tackle, starting 25 consecutive games.
Hunter Littlejohn started all 12 games in 2017 at center. He is being pushed in 2018 by Nick Linder.
Simon Stepaniak started in all six games that he appeared last year, and also missed six games due to injury.
Brandon Knight appeared in the final 10 games of 2017 with eight starts at right tackle.
Harry Crider played in eight games at center and made his collegiate debut in the season opener against No. 2 Ohio State.
Delroy Baker played in 10 games at right tackle and right guard and started four times at right tackle. He is the only other senior on the unit besides Martin.
Davondre Brown played in the final 11 games of the 2017 season.
Mackenzie Nworah started six times and played in 10 games at right guard.
WHO IS NEW
With the experience and depth on this roster, it is going to be difficult for any newcomers to see the field, but there are a few key exceptions.
Nick Linder is a graduate transfer from Miami of Florida. His natural position is center, and he has been battling Littlejohn there. Linder has the ability to handle multiple positions and is expected to be a valuable asset irrespective of whether he starts on day one.
Caleb Jones is a redshirt freshman that is probably best known for his mammoth 6-foot-8, 360 pound frame, but his year over year improvement has him sitting second on the depth chart at left tackle.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Offensive line coach Darren Hiller met with the media last week:
Beyond all of the returning experience and depth, of course we are obligated to mention strength and conditioning coach David Ballou here. Probably no unit on the team has been more uniformly acknowledged as having made major strides in the new program. It is just one more reason to think, no expect, that this offensive line is going to be a force.
Indiana needs to play downhill, run first football, setting up short yardage third down situations where Peyton Ramsey can make reliable plays to possession guys like Luke Timian and Whop Philyor. On paper they appear to have just the line to establish long time consuming drives that produce points and keep the young defense off the field.
The offensive line is the key to the season. If we’re talking all year about IU’s dominance up front, count on the high end of your win total expectations. Anything less than dominant could prove to be a disappointment both for this unit and the season as a whole.
Previous positional previews: