Through good times and bad for Indiana football over the last 20 years, the one position group that has arguably remained the most constant has been the Hoosiers’ wide receiver corps.
Indiana has generally had at least one wideout on each roster who has produced enough in college to earn a look in the NFL, from Courtney Roby to James Hardy to Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher to Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn and Kofi Hughes to Simmie Cobbs to their current corps, the Hoosiers have throughout that stretch had at least one perimeter weapon they could trust to make plays.
The Hoosiers are sending another productive wideout to the professional ranks in Whop Philyor, who entered his name in the NFL draft after catching 180 passes for 2,067 yards and 12 touchdowns in four years, finishing fourth in school history in career receptions and ninth in career yards. But with additions and growth else where in the receiving corps, there is little reason to expect a dropoff for the unit as a whole.
The biggest reason for that is the return of senior Ty Fryfogle, a third-team All-American, first-team All-Big Ten pick and Big Ten Receiver of the Year who is taking advantage of the COVID-19 related fifth-year option to come back for one more go-around. He caught 37 passes for 721 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games last season and posted back-to-back 200-yard receiving games against Michigan State and Ohio State, but came back because he believes he has more to prove.
IU wide receivers coach Grant Heard said there are a lot of areas where he still can.
“Just understanding coverages, how people are trying to play him, and working on his weaknesses,” Heard said during a spring practice Zoom press conference Tuesday. “With (strength and conditioning coach Aaron) Wellman he’ll get a little faster, a little more sudden. He’s just gotta keep developing as far as catching 50-50 balls. He had a lot of opportunities last year and he made a lot. In my mind, I want him to make more of them. That’s a challenge for him. To be able to move around, do some different things and use a little different skill set that he has to offer.”
The Hoosiers also bring back their other starting outside receiver Miles Marshall, a big target at 6-foot-4, 208 pounds who showed big-play potential with 19 catches for 290 yards last season. Though he caught just eight passes in the season’s final four games, he averaged more than 15 yards per catch on those receptions. The redshirt sophomore has steadily increased his production and hopes to take another step.
“I hope my role increases,” Marshall said. “But that’s up to me. I gotta keep working hard. I have to keep getting faster. I have to work on my hands. I have to work on my releases, and I have to become a better player to do the things I want to do. My goal is to go to the NFL. I have a couple more years to try to achieve that goal.”
Heard says he doesn’t have to do much from an understanding of the game perspective. He already knows all three positions. But he does want him to learn how to play stronger.
“He has a complete understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Heard said. “I feel really good about that part. For him, it’s trying to get him to play more physical and let people feel his presence out there on the field as far as blocking and 50-50 balls. Just trying to get him to be a more vocal leader in that role. He’s been there. He’s played a lot of ball, he’s one of the veterans in that room. That’s my challenge for him.”
And into Philyor’s position at the slot, the Hoosiers bring in a former U.S. Army All-American and four-star recruit in D.J. Matthews, who comes to Indiana for his final season after catching 84 passes for 809 yards in three seasons at Florida State. He’s just 5-10, 153 pounds, but he brings a lot of speed and could also be the Hoosiers’ punt returner.
Matthews has already made a strong impression, winning Offensive Player of the Day honors from the coaching staff in the first practice of the spring.
“He came in on Day 1 and the attention to detail that he had on some of the stuff he’d never done with us before was pretty impressive,” Heard said. “That showed me a lot that it was important to him and he really does want to be great. Did he make mistakes? He did. But to come in on his first day and have as few of mistakes he did in all of the stuff I was asking him to do, he did an awesome job that day.”
And he’s continued to impress. Matching Philyor’s production will be difficult considering he caught 124 passes for 1,497 yards in his last 20 college games, but they know they’ll have someone in the slot who is dangerous.
“He’s a great route runner,” Marshall said. “Very elusive, very silky, very smooth. He adds a lot of explosiveness to the room.”
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