The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2022 Indiana football season on Sept. 2 against Illinois (schedule here).
Today we take a look at the offensive line. For a complete position-by-position look at who is coming and going in 2022, go here.
THE SURE THING
The one sure thing about this group is that they can make or break the season. There were many layers to the disappointment that was the 2021 campaign, but the offensive line clearly played a central role. The Hoosiers finished 12th in the Big Ten last season in yards per carry, and 12th in rushing yards per game. The line was simply a group that was by-and-large unable to impose its will. They also finished tied for 11th in sacks allowed per game, and Indiana was playing a fourth-string walk-on quarterback late in the season in large part due to the abuse inflicted on the three in front of him on the depth chart.
And while things went horribly wrong with the offensive line in 2021, there were not wholesale changes. Head coach Tom Allen retained position coach Darren Hiller, and there is only one new face up front beyond the freshmen, while veterans Caleb Jones and Dylan Powell have departed.
So if there is going to be a revival in the trenches, it must come via development. The wildcard is new offensive coordinator Walt Bell, who is expected to bring more of an up-tempo, read-and-react approach. The hope at fall camp is that a new style will play to the strengths of this veteran group.
THE BIG QUESTION
Beyond the obvious big picture questions about the line, at the micro level the biggest uncertainty appears to be at right guard.
Luke Haggard and Matthew Bedford appear likely to be the starters at tackle, and Zach Carpenter and Mike Katic appear likely to join them at center and left guard, respectively.
Haggard graded out fairly well in pass protection according to PFF, improving his pass blocking grade from 39.6 in 2020 to 66 in 2021. PFF says he didn’t allow a single pressure against Ohio State. If he takes another step forward, Haggard could end up as a solid Big Ten tackle, and that’s essential as he will be the blind side protection.
Bedford had immediate success at tackle as a true freshman in 2019, but IU moved him to guard in 2021 with mixed results. The hope is that Bedford puts it all together and has a solid fourth year back out on the outside. He was honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2021 and IU’s offensive newcomer of the year in 2019. He has appeared in 28 games with 27 starts.
Carpenter transferred from Michigan, was a 4-star recruit, and Allen believes he has made the necessary changes during the offseason after an unsteady 2021 that included three starts.
Katic was another 2021 starter who appears to have earned the trust of the staff after a solid spring that carried into the summer.
The battle for the starting role at right guard appeared to be more competitive at fall camp, with Tim Weaver and Kahlil Benson the main contenders. Weaver seems likely to get the first shot against Illinois, but that is one we’ll watch to see who runs out for the first series to be sure.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Tom Allen was open and honest during the offseason about the shortcoming up front a year ago:
“We challenged some of those guys to be better leaders, to be more physical, to play with a higher level of execution and preparation,” Allen said. “They just didn’t play good enough. Obviously, our whole offense struggled. There’s a lot of things that went into that, and they probably got more of the brunt of it than they deserved. That’s OK. That’s just reality. They’ve accepted it and responded.”
Bedford on his development since playing as a freshman:
“My body has changed. At the time I was 310 pounds of fat and now I have a lot more muscle. With that, my technique and stuff has developed a lot in that time. My knowledge of the game, just the game experience over the years has helped a lot. I have been able to see all kinds of defenses and all kinds of personnel. I have seen a lot of different pass rushers on the edge and interior guys up front.”
KEEP AN EYE ON
Who might see the field beyond the first five?
Allen has mentioned Division II transfer Parker Hanna on multiple occasions. The tackle is 24 and obviously didn’t come to IU planning to sit the bench during his last season of eligibility. Also generating mentions during fall camp were guard Vinny Fiacable, tackle Josh Sales, and center Cameron Knight. Those four along with Benson seem like the “next five.”
IU also has three true freshmen including 4-star recruit D.J. Moore from Fort Wayne.
Offensive line coach Darren Hiller is entering his sixth season at IU. Here he is at 2022 fall camp:
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