The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2019 Indiana University football season on August 31 against Ball State in Indianapolis.
Today we take a look at the offensive line.
Indiana football has been producing NFL caliber offensive linemen for several years. From veteran Rodger Saffold to Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney, three Hoosiers were on pro rosters in 2018.
Wes Martin seems like a lock to make the Washington Redskins in 2019, and Brandon Knight is getting a good look in Dallas as well.
Senior left tackle Coy Cronk knows the standards are high.
“The standard is there. It was there before I got there,” Cronk said at the Big Ten Media Day.
When it comes to Cronk and his fellow starters, there should be no letdown in 2019 — at least when it comes to the top of the depth chart.
Beyond the first group IU becomes inexperienced fast, but there is young talent that should get a chance to rotate in and prepare to keep the standard going.
WHO IS GONE
Indiana lost several key veterans from the 2018 squad including Nick Linder (Eligibility), Brandon Knight (Eligibility), Delroy Baker (Eligibility), and Wes Martin (Eligibility).
THE 2019 ROSTER
WHO IS BACK
The starting five includes four players with extensive experience and an emerging star that just took on a much bigger burden.
Cronk is a four year starter at left tackle and a clear team leader. He has started in every game that he has appeared. Cronk is on the Outland Trophy watch list.
Harry Crider has played in 14 games during his first two seasons and looks primed to become much more of a force at left guard as an upperclassman.
Hunter Littlejohn split time at center last year with Linder and started all 12 games as a sophomore. He is on the Rimington Award watch list.
Simon Stepaniak has 20 starts throughout his career and should be solid at right guard.
And then there is Caleb Jones. By all indications the massive IU right tackle is ready for the big stage. With Michael Penix being named the starter, that means Jones has the added responsibility of protecting the lefthander’s blind side. Both players and coaches alike have praised Jones’ elevation of his game.
NAMES ON THE RISE / IMPACT NEWCOMERS
With IU’s release of its week one depth chart on Monday, it’s clear who the next group is on the offensive line.
Matthew Bedford is a true freshman left tackle that has earned the praise of the coaching staff throughout fall camp.
Britt Beery sits behind Crider at left guard and should see his first extensive action beyond special teams.
Charlie O’Connor has emerged at the center spot behind Littlejohn.
Mackenzie Nworah is the next man up at right guard behind Stepaniak. He struggled with injuries in 2018 but saw six starts in 2017. Nworah could fill in at multiple spots if necessary and should rotate in often.
DaVondre Love is a fifth year senior right tackle that has been on the field plenty throughout his IU career.
Tim Weaver and Michael Katic are true freshmen that have also been mentioned as guys with bright futures in Bloomington.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Running game coordinator and offensive line coach Darren Hiller met with the media during Fall Camp.
(Video credit – Indiana University Athletics)
While the offensive line has a great foundation with its starting five, on paper it doesn’t appear that there is much margin for injuries. Littlejohn agreed with that assessment going into fall camp.
“I think we have six or seven guys that can be very serviceable, and from there we really have to work on building depth,” he told me.
Guys like Bedford have likely added to that number in August, but IU is going to rely on a smaller core group this year.
With unquestioned talent at the skill positions, a big part of the story of the 2019 season will focus on whether there is sufficient protection, push and space up front to get Indiana’s athletes moving downhill.
If IU stays healthy on the line, the offense could take a major step forward this year.
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