The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2021 Indiana football season on Sept. 4 against Iowa.
Today we take a look at the offensive line.
Despite significant talent at the skill positions, Indiana’s fortunes could rise or fall with the five guys up front.
By now you’ve likely heard the stories — the disruptive offseason leading into the 2020 season caused offensive linemen to be playing out-of-shape and at far less (or more) than optimal weights.
The impact on IU’s line was apparent right away, as the Hoosiers were a step slow in pass blocking, especially early in the season, and they finished No. 114 (out of 127) in rushing offense.
Protecting quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. is mission critical in 2021, and that necessitates improved play from the offensive line, including a much better running game to keep defenses honest.
WHO IS GONE
Center Harry Crider left for the NFL. He wasn’t drafted but signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. They waived him earlier this week.
Guard Mackenzie Nworah left the program to pursue a career outside football, and Britt Beery put his name in the transfer portal.
THE 2021 ROSTER
RETURNING WITH EXPERIENCE
Caleb Jones was probably the most impacted by the 2020 offseason. He is much lighter and more nimble this year and appears ready to start at again at tackle. He has played in 29 games with IU and has All-Big Ten potential.
Matthew Bedford has started 15 games over his first two seasons and appears likely to continue that trend. He has started at both tackle spots and where he plays in year three will be an interesting development to watch.
Dylan Powell is in his second year with IU after transferring from Stanford. The sixth year interior lineman played in all eight games with four starts at left guard and two starts at right guard. He could also play the center position.
Mike Katic played in six games at guard in 2020 including four starts and was named IU’s offensive newcomer of the year as a redshirt freshman.
Luke Haggard could be a starter at tackle. He played in six games with four starts in 2020 despite being undersized. After adding 30 pounds in the offseason, IU really likes what they’ve seen from him with the added weight.
Tim Weaver played in five games in 2020. He should see the field at guard.
Randy Holtz played in three games in 2020. He should see the field at guard.
Charlie O’Connor is a walk-on center who played in four games in 2019.
NAMES ON THE RISE/IMPACT NEWCOMERS
Zach Carpenter is the headline transfer on the line. He started two games and appeared in three total on Michigan’s offensive line in 2020. Carpenter can play anywhere on the interior but is most likely to play center.
Kahlil Benson suffered an ACL injury during fall camp and redshirted the 2020 season. He is back and healthy and appears to be in line to see the field some at tackle in his redshirt freshman campaign.
Aidan Rafferty has played in 11 games in three years with the program.
Nick Marozas is in his fourth year with the program from Chicago and looking to see his first game action in 2021.
Luke Wiginton is a second year player from Fort Wayne. He did not see the field in 2020.
Brady Feeney is a second year player from St. Louis. He did not see the field in 2020.
Chris Bradberry transferred in from Riverside Community College last year and did not see the field.
Cameron Knight is a second year player from Noblesville, Ind. He did not see the field in 2020.
Josh Sales and Vinny Fiacable were impressive freshmen at fall camp who should contribute on the field relatively early in their careers.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Offensive line coach Darren Hiller on improving the running game —
“I just think that we are always trying to run the football. There were times where we did run the football well, but there were games that I don’t want to rehash last year because last year is last year. But there were games where we didn’t run the football very well. We are always trying to establish the run game and there’s times that defenses are going to put more dudes in there than we can block and when they do that what we have to do is be able to block the ones that we feel like schematically are more important and if we do hand the ball off to the running back he’s got to make a guy miss or run through a tackle if there’s an extra dude in the box. He’s got to do that and it’s a mentality and it’s got to be a mentality of just because they stacked the box doesn’t mean we have to throw the football. There are answers to that, but we also have to be able to say you know what, we don’t care how many dudes are in there. I think there were sometimes last year during the season that we had to closeout a game and we were able to run the football, generate some first downs in late game situations against heavy boxes, and I think we proved that we can do it. But the consistency wasn’t there. It’s just a grind. It’s always getting through the details and being as best as we can in there and being tough enough and strong enough.”
Tackle Caleb Jones on the line’s offseason focus —
“A big thing for the offensive line is the run game. It has been our focus for most of this fall camp. We are making sure that we can open gaps for our running backs and making our offense as balanced as it should be. We are working on getting to the level we need to get to be successful.”
Guard Matthew Bedford on the 2021 offseason vs. 2020 —
“It has been good not being in the cohorts like we were last year. Now that we are all allowed in the Team Room as an offensive line, we can form a better bond because we are all allowed to be together in one area. We can talk and communicate after practice about how we messed up a play or ‘let me go talk this person.’ Being able to have a face-to-face interaction has been great for us.”
Indiana doesn’t have a lot of depth, especially at tackle, so health and stamina will be important. Jones and Haggard should be quality tackles, but it isn’t clear who can step in behind them without a major drop-off. Bedford is a third option but beyond that trio things are a bit murky.
The two-deep is more clear on the interior where Indiana should be improved.
Indiana led the Big Ten and was 17th nationally in fewest sacks allowed per game at 1.25. But that was as much about Penix getting rid of the ball fast often under pressure more than anything else. More experienced and prepared in 2021, IU projects to give their quarterback more time and running back Stephen Carr bigger holes. But the line is still the biggest question mark going into the season, and their ability to stay healthy will be essential.
MORE 2021 POSITION PREVIEWS
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