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 wide receivers and tight ends. For a complete position-by-position look at who is coming and going in 2022, go here.
THE SURE THING
The one sure thing with this group is that however it goes, new faces will play a prominent role.
Long-time starters Peyton Hendershot, Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall have all moved on, clearing the way at the tight end and receiver positions.
The one certainty appears to be A.J. Barner at tight end, who IU coach Tom Allen referred to as having a chance to become the program’s best ever at the position. He combines speed, length and physicality to create a promising weapon in the passing game.
At wide receiver, look for Indiana to rotate heavily. Allen said last week eight or nine receivers may see the field, which speaks to both a continuing process to find consistent playmakers, as well as an up-tempo approach that will necessitate getting fresh legs on the field whenever possible.
THE BIG QUESTION
Playing time at wide receiver was wide open going into fall camp.
The leading contenders for prominent roles appear to be D.J. Matthews, JUCO transer Cam Camper, North Carolina transfer Emery Simmons, and Tennessee transfer Andison Coby. The latter three have been making splash plays at fall camp, and Matthews has a proven record of doing the same, although it is reasonable to wonder how quick he return to form after suffering a torn ACL in September.
Also likely to figure into the rotation are Malachi Holt-Bennett and Javon Swinton. Holt-Bennett worked his way up the depth chart as a true freshman at IU in 2021 and saw the field, and Swinton has played a fair amount in each of the last two seasons.
Jaquez Smith was beginning to live up to his 4-star recruiting ranking, although a minor injury set him back at fall camp. David Baker is also attempting to break through after a strong spring. It will be interesting to see how much those two play early in the season.
True freshman Kamryn Perry is a small but quick true freshman playmaker in the mold of Matthews.
A major wildcard is Donaven McCulley, who moved to receiver from the quarterback position this year. He has size you can’t teach, and he has also been making plays at fall camp. McCulley is still learning the finer points of playing receiver, but he will have a role this year both on the edge and perhaps in packages that feature his passing ability.
At tight end, the main questions are who will back up Barner in the receiving role, and who will add size in multiple tight end running situations.
The staff loves sophomore Aaron Steinfeldt as a receiver, and they raved about the progression of James Bomba, especially in the big tight end role. Both players are from Bloomington.
Freshmen Brody Foley and Ryan Miller both have great size and will likely see targeted opportunities in their first season. Foley appears to have the early edge between the two.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
IU head coach Tom Allen on Emery Simmons, who originally committed to the Hoosiers out of high school before changing his mind, and then transferred in during the offseason from North Carolina.
“Well, we loved him in the beginning,” Allen said about Simmons. “We’re excited to get him, disappointed we lost him, glad to have him back. And know his parents real well and that’s kinda, you know, a uniqueness about some of these guys that you have a chance to get to know and then it kinda comes full circle, you know, so you don’t feel like you’re just getting a guy that you don’t really understand where he comes from and everything… He and I have talked a lot, I mean, he loves being here, you know, and loves the opportunity to be able to be where he initially committed to.”
Allen on the tight end room:
“I think there’s no question that it’s a room that’s very young,” he said. “There are no seniors in that room. AJ [Barner] is the vet, and he’s still young, as well. So, I think James Bomba is one that sticks out and he’s really continued to work extremely hard and elevate himself and be in the position to have multiple roles there in regard to what he can do in the throw game and the run game.
I think Aaron Steinfeldt continues to develop and work hard and as I’ve always said his balls skills are elite. Just got to continue to develop him physically. Then Brody Foley to me is a third guy that’s gotten a lot of reps lately and as he came here in January, coming off a post-season surgery that he’s now fully recovered from, but did not get to practice with us in the spring and he is now back to doing that. So, those three guys to me are really in the mix for sure at that spot. Some other guys are behind there and continue to give us some depth but those three to me stick out.”
KEEP AN EYE ON
During the early signing period in December, fans waited breathlessly as 4-star wideout Omar Cooper, Jr. took an extra couple days to sign his letter of intent. At the time Cooper was the No. 311 player overall in the 2022 class, and the No. 45 wide receiver, and the 14th highest rated player ever to sign with IU in the rankings era.
Cooper ran track in the spring, so he didn’t enroll early to participate in spring practice. With that in mind, it was reasonable to wonder whether he’d be ready to make an impact in year one.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cooper get some snaps this year, but the staff is especially enamored with his long-term potential.
“I tell you what,” Allen said Tuesday, “Omar Cooper is gonna be really, really special. He’s still young, and he’s got to figure it all out, but you just see (his potential).”
In high school at Lawrence North in Indianapolis, Cooper caught passes from his now fellow receiver McCulley.
Wide receiver coach Adam Henry is entering his first season at IU, arriving from the same role with the Dallas Cowboys. Here he is at 2022 fall camp:
SEE ALSO: Picks to click: Wide receiver Cam Camper
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