After a first weekend of fall camp in which every day seemed hotter than the next, Tom Allen was pleased to wake-up Monday morning to see rain in Bloomington’s forecast.
Preseason camp is about adverse conditions and how players fight through them, and Allen doesn’t just want to see Indiana go through a lot of adversity but a variety of hard times. Playing through heat is good for conditioning, but it’s only so valuable in the Midwest once the calendar turns to October and the temperatures start to fall.
But Big Ten teams can find themselves in wet conditions at any point in the season, so the days when the rain breaks the August heat are good for development.
“We had a chance to be out in the rain, which is invaluable,” Allen said in a press conference after practice. “We got some wet-ball work, which is important on offense, defense and special teams, especially the guys handling the ball on special teams. PATs, field goals as well. Worked on some different things like that. It’s been good.”
Through four practices, Allen said, the Hoosiers are handling everything the way he would have expected and possibly better. The Hoosiers have 17 returning starters on offense and defense, two more on special teams, and lots of other returners who have seen meaningful action.
They seem, so far, to be relishing the opportunity to have a relatively normal preseason camp without the stops and starts that came along with COVID-19 last season. There are still protocols, but because the team has a high vaccination rate, there’s much less potential for interruption. That’s allowed the Hoosiers to get a lot done early in terms of system installation, something Allen has said on frequent occasions was severely limited last year.
“We’ve been aggressive in our install,” Allen said. “What we’re putting in each day. We’ve done different approaches. Some times you start a little slower because if you put a lot in in four or five days, you go backwards. Sometimes if you put a lot in the first two days, then Day 3 you do nothing new. But we’ve just been plowing through with this group. We feel like we have a lot of maturity on our team. A lot of work has been done in the player practices (in the offseason when coaches couldn’t be there to watch.) A lot of installation was done there, so I feel really good about the aggressiveness of the installs on both sides.”
Helping the installation along, of course, is the improving health of the players wearing No. 9 on both sides of the ball, veterans Michael Penix Jr. and Marcelino McCrary-Ball. Both are coming off season-ending ACL tears from last season. McCrary-Ball suffered his in late September, which was still preseason last year, and Penix suffered his during the Hoosiers’ win over Maryland. Both are having their level of contact limited early in practice — and Penix isn’t to be hit at all — but Allen likes how both of them are moving.
“It’s been really good to see them out running around, playing and cutting and playing football,” Allen said. “I think that’s really good. Marcelino, you’re able to really see — obviously quarterbacks aren’t live in preseason camp — you’re able to see him being physical and thudding up and playing and cutting. He looks good. It’s just a matter of confidence in that knee and learning and growing and getting better. I’m really excited for him and for us.”
He doesn’t have as much of a read on Penix but is still impressed.
“He’s doing a good job out there making throws,” Allen said. “I’ve seen his leadership increase. He’s calling guys out, which is what you want, in a good way. Correcting guys, making sure, being a coach on the field when things aren’t done right. Especially with the receivers and the O-Line, whatever it happens to be. At this time of year, it’s very, very important.”
Along with his starting quarterback, Allen has also been impressed with his highly-regarded freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley of Lawrence North. McCulley was the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the nation in the Class of 2021 and an Indiana Mr. Football finalist. He’s unlikely to get on the field this season with Penix and Jack Tuttle ahead of him on the quarterback depth chart and will most likely redshirt, but he doesn’t seem as far behind the curve as one might expect a true freshman to be at this point.
“He’s a gifted player,” Allen said. “Very talented. He’s up to 215 pounds which is a significant difference from when he got here. He’s got a big frame, close to 6-foot-5. You walk out there, you notice him for sure. The way he moves. He’s got such a quick release. He’s just learning the offense, he’s got a long way to go, but what impresses me is his attitude. He’s a sponge and he’s so humble. Great listener. I watch him when he interacts with our coaches. He doesn’t get defensive. He just has a great demeanor about him.”
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