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IU football: Offense learning to master “significant changes” under new OC Walt Bell

After a 2021 season that saw Indiana finish No. 124 (out of 129) in total yards and No. 123 in scoring offense, something had to change.

As it is turning out, almost nothing remains the same.

New offensive coordinator?  Check.  New offensive scheme?  Check.  New skill position coaches?  Check.  New skill position players?  Check.

When Indiana hired Kalen DeBoer to run the offense in 2019, the narrative coming out of the IU program was that not much would change under the new OC beyond the terminology.

This time around, head coach Tom Allen isn’t afraid to admit there will be an entirely new look when his offense takes the field on Sept. 2 against Illinois.  It is an idea he fully endorses.

“I would say there are a significant amount of changes (with the offense), by design, that’s what I wanted,” Allen said.

Right now Allen’s program is in the middle of spring practice implementing a new system brought to Bloomington by offensive coordinator Walt Bell, who arrived after two years as the head coach at UMass.

Allen sees welcomed new looks in all aspects of Bell’s offense.

“There’s no question there’s significant change in the passing game, the run game, and that to me is what’s really important to me is that we learn (this spring) to master those (changes) and execute those,” Allen said.

What are the changes?  No one is going to get into the details of course, but Bell’s history including prior stops as offensive coordinator at Florida State, Maryland and Arkansas State suggests he very much wants his players to be able to read and react to the defense at the line of scrimmage rather than running preconceived plays.

It is that very kind of thinking that he is attempting to instill this spring.

“I think it goes back to me growing up in the Air Raid (offense), everything’s not cookie-cutter, the way it looks on a playbook page isn’t the way it’s going to look in real life,” Bell said on Tuesday when asked how the offense is unique specifically for the wide receivers.

“Just learning how to manage the gray, and just knowing that not everything’s perfect and not everybody is exactly where we expect them to be all the time.  It is a little bit more managing, and how to be open and how to be in the grass you need to be in at the right time.”

The change on the offensive side of the ball extends beyond Bell’s new scheme.

Indiana has new position coaches at quarterback (Bell), running back (Craig Johnson) and wide receiver (Adam Henry).  They added a transfer quarterback, two transfer running backs, and two transfer receivers since the 2021 season, along with a host of freshmen.

Because everyone is learning the new system at the same time, the playing field has been leveled somewhat when it comes to competition for playing time.

“It creates unbelievable competition, and that is ultimately what you want at every single position,” Bell said.

And it appears likely new faces on campus from the transfer portal will play leading roles at all of those offensive skill positions as well.

Quarterback Connor Bazelak from Missouri has impressive arm talent according to Bell.  He seems to be the early favorite to earn the starting job.

Running back Shaun Shivers from Auburn has a good chance to be the starting running back, while JUCO transfer Cam Camper and Emery Simmons (North Carolina) seem to be in the mix for big roles at wide receiver.

In the end, Bell and Allen are hunting for skilled playmakers with good football instincts.

Because for as much as things have changed in the last few months, the end goal remains the same.

Basically, Allen wants his offense to get back to doing everything they didn’t do last year.

“You’ve got to protect the football, and score points.  And you do that by creating explosive plays.  That’s been the focus (during the offseason), and it will continue to be,” Allen said.

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