Everyone has seen the potential.
It wouldn’t be fair to call what Michael Penix is capable of “untapped potential.”
When healthy, the tap is open, and the talent flows — as does the Indiana offense.
When healthy is the rub. That is the modifier that accompanies most conversations about Penix these days.
But he isn’t thinking about that right now.
“I really don’t like to dwell on the past with those injuries,” he told the media on a Zoom conference on Friday morning. “I look forward to playing whole seasons, and I want to be a person the team can rely on every week. I have to step up, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
In the past, Penix has been spectacular when he was on the field.
A 33-of-42 passing performance at Michigan State that included 286 yards and three touchdowns highlighted a 2019 season that saw Penix set the program’s completion percentage record at 68.8 percent.
But also in the past, Penix has been injured — repeatedly.
Just as he appeared to take over the starting role as a true freshman in 2018, Penix went down with a season ending knee injury against Penn State.
In 2019, Penix opened the season as the starter, but he was only able to appear in six games, and he only completed three of those contests.
In more ways than one, the 2020 Indiana football season will be about moving on from the past.
Gone is offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, who has moved on to the head coaching job at Fresno State.
In his place is former tight ends and quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan.
The new IU play caller isn’t dwelling on Penix’s injury history either.
“The biggest thing we have talked about is ownership of offense, making it his,” Sheridan said of Penix. “That takes time. You have to invest in guys around you, you have to spend time communicating to make it his.
“Most offenses will tell you that you will go as far as your quarterback plays. We think Michael can be very special. We all know when the quarterback runs the room, you have a good shot and that’s what we are challenging him to do. I’m looking forward to him continuing to grow.”
Penix said one of his goals for the season was to “put us in great situations to make everyone’s job easier.” His fellow Maxwell Award watch list members know that a healthy and productive Penix is key to their own success.
The bond between Penix and his All-Big Ten receiver runs deep.
“Me and Mike are both from Tampa, so we are always see each other all the time,” star receiver Whop Philyor said of his quarterback. “He’s either at my house or we are outside throwing the football. Our relationship is always going to be brother and brother, we are always together.”
Philyor’s production was higher in games when Penix was healthy, and that stems from the relationship the pair has developed both on and off the field.
“It has always been a trust thing,” Penix said. “We trust each other. I trust him to get open and he trusts me to get him the ball exactly where he wants me to put it. Making sure we are on the same page. That’s what we have been working, with consistency and keeping the connection alive.”
Indiana’s star running back has seen Penix leading since he arrived back in Bloomington this summer.
“I can tell he’s stepped up just from the offseason,” Stevie Scott said of Penix. “He got all guys together just to try to keep us together, and build chemistry. During workouts he’s in front of lines, trying to help better guys. He’s still learning but by beginning of the season to the end, Mike will be where he should be as a leader.”
Penix appears to have gotten where he should be physically as well.
Head coach Tom Allen indicated during the spring that the staff hoped that added weight would help Penix stay healthy.
After entering the 2019 season at 202 pounds, Penix arrives this year at 218. How did he do it?
“A lot of treatment and working out. Eating healthier so my body stays right,” Penix said.
Now in his third year with the program, fully healthy and the clear starter entering fall camp, Penix just might be ready to put the past behind him and enjoy a complete season.
But with the status of the 2020 campaign still in question, Penix isn’t thinking much about the future either.
For now it is just day-to-day.
And getting back to any sense of normalcy feels good.
“It’s been great getting back on field,” Penix said.
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