The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2020 Indiana University football season on October 24 against Penn State in Bloomington.
Today we take a look at the offensive line.
The offensive line has been a strength of the Indiana program during and prior to position coach Darren Hiller’s four year tenure at IU.
While key pieces return in 2020, Hiller will have his hands full replacing important veterans and building depth on what is a relatively young unit.
With most of the top skill position players back in 2020, all eyes will be on the line to see if they can provide the time and space to allow the offense to have another big season.
WHO IS GONE
The losses are significant up front for the Hoosiers, especially on the interior.
Long-time starters Simon Stepaniak and Hunter Littlejohn exhausted their eligibility. Stepaniak is now with the Green Bay Packers.
Davondre Love also used up his eligibility while another long-time starter, Coy Cronk, transferred to Iowa after an injury shortened 2019 campaign.
THE 2020 ROSTER
RETURNING WITH EXPERIENCE
Caleb Jones was honorable mention all-Big Ten at tackle and a clear starter in 2020 along with Matthew Bedford, who filled in admirably after Cronk went down. Bedford is expected to line up on the right side, Jones on the left. The duo should provide solid anchors on each end of the line, but there are serious questions about the depth at tackle behind them.
Harry Crider has moved to center after starting at left guard in 2020. Crider is comfortable at center and he gives IU another steady veteran in its starting five.
After that, things get a bit more interesting on the interior.
Stanford graduate transfer Dylan Powell is battling to start at guard along with Mackenzie Nworah and Mike Katic. All three will see extensive playing time irrespective of who starts. Powell has extensive power five experience, while Nworah has played in 19 games, starting 9 times for IU. Katic did not appear in any games in 2019.
Charlie O’Connor could backup Crider at center or work into the guard rotation after appearing in four games last year.
Britt Beery figures to factor into the interior line rotations as well. He appeared in 11 games in 2019.
Aidan Rafferty saw action in four games last year and will look to expand his role.
NAMES ON THE RISE/IMPACT NEWCOMERS
Tim Weaver is a redshirt freshman that didn’t play in 2019 but has risen up the depth chart at guard.
IU also welcomes a pair of California JUCO transfers in Chris Bradberry and Luke Haggard. Both might be a year away, with Bradberry perhaps further along at this point.
Nick Marozas will look to see his first action as a Hoosier.
True freshmen Brady Feeney, Randy Holtz, Luke Wiginton, and Cam Knight are four true freshman that will try to carve-out a spot in the rotation. Knight is the younger brother of former star and current Dallas Cowboy Brandon Knight. Feeney is not related to Dan Feeney.
Khalil Benson is another promising true freshman that was lost for the season with an injury.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Harry Crider on moving to center —
“I’m super excited to be back at the center position,” Crider said. “When I first moved to O-line in high school, all I played was center. The past two years were my only experience being outside of center, so center’s home and I’m happy to be back in that more of a leadership role.”
Caleb Jones on bouncing between left and right tackle —
“In terms of playing on both sides last season, I think that is just a result of Coach Hiller having a lot of faith in me and playing both sides,” Jones said. “I started here as a left tackle and he moved me a lot from left to right in practice and put me in a lot of situations and scenarios that would prepare me to play both sides.”
Darren Hiller on the young offensive line —
“I go back to 2017, the first year that I got here,” Hiller said. “We didn’t have a senior in the offensive line room. We do have some seniors (this year), but I kind of liken this season back to the 2017 season where we have some talent in the room, some kids that work extremely hard, and are very motivated. It is just going to be a matter of them being able to go out there and perform when it’s live bullets on the football field.”
Even with its veteran group in 2019, Indiana struggled at times to run the football. And unlike 2019, the Hoosiers don’t have Peyton Ramsey ready if quarterback Michael Penix goes down.
Protecting Penix while keeping defenses honest with the running game will be mission critical for the offensive line in 2020.
Jones, Bedford and Crider provide a certain level of comfort and stability for the group — but there is no doubt about it — even if the group remains healthy some relatively inexperienced players are going to have to emerge for IU to have a potent offense once again in 2020.
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