Photo by Mike Schumann / The Daily Hoosier

IU Football Q&A: Offensive Line Coach Darren Hiller

Indiana offensive line coach Darren Hiller joined a teleconference on Monday.

Also the Hoosiers’ run game coordinator, Hiller discussed the latest with his group’s preparations during the pandemic, the emergence of leadership, and the move of Harry Crider to center.

Hiller is entering his fourth season with the IU football program.  He mentored future NFL players Brandon Knight and Wes Martin during his tenure in Bloomington.

Q: Is there a silver lining to being with your family this time of year and having time to prepare for the season?
HILLER: I would say the answer to that is yes in a general sense. Our days haven’t changed in a dramatic way. We are still having staff meetings and position meetings on Zoom. We’re still having our offensive staff meetings and the defensive staff is meeting. The biggest thing that we’re not able to do right now is that we would have practice film from spring practices that we would be combing over either as an offensive staff or with our players. Now we’re in the middle of our fourth week since we would have been back after spring break, and we only had four practices prior to going on to spring break. Obviously, we have exhausted that video. There are still some things that we’re doing. We’re going back and showing some schemes that we run to our players. For recruiting, aside from today (April 15) being the first day we can go on the road from a calendar standpoint, we’re doing the same things that we would have been doing anyway. Talking to prospects, trying to get parents on the phone and doing all those kinds of things as we’re rolling. But yes, it is great, I am getting to see my family and spend more time with them.

Q: Who are you looking for right now to be a leader and act like a captain?
HILLER: Harry Crider is the obvious answer to that, but Harry’s a quiet guy. So, when I think back to my first year here in 2017, and we had no seniors in the room I really looked and had Wes Martin take the role. Hindsight being 20/20, Wes is a quiet guy, he’s a hard worker, obviously a very good football player, but he’s not a real vocal guy. Harry Crider is a guy that will do his part from that prospective, but Harry’s not a real vocal guy. Caleb Jones is a guy that has a great personality and will talk and all those things. Mackenzie Nworah is a fifth-year senior, but a quiet guy a lot like Harry Crider. So, looking to guys like Matthew Bedford, he’s a great personality guy. To me, that’s one of the things that spring ball and having those guys here in the building in Bloomington, some of that would have come to fruition a little bit. I think that will be a bit of a missing piece in the O-line room. We know who the leaders are from a work prospective, so it’s now who is going to be that vocal guy. I would say there are some questions in that regard.

Q: What are you having your guys do at home to stay sharp with their game?
HILLER: That’s the challenge. We just had our position meeting this morning and I spent quite a bit of time talking about all those things. At the end of the day, to answer the question, we have a certain grid of footwork that we use in our run game that are the schemes that we run. Our guys know that, they’re trained in that throughout the offseason. They know the footwork they’re supposed to use, same from a pass protection standpoint, the different protections that we use and the sets, we have a set system that I teach. I just keep challenging them, that’s the hard part. When you wake up in the morning and brush your teeth and look at yourself in the mirror, are you to a man getting out and doing the best you can do from a preparation standpoint? So, when we do get back, are we going to be able to hit the ground running, or are we going to be playing catch up trying to get you back functional from a conditioning and skillset standpoint? We’re telling them this is what we want you to do, and I think for the most part the guys are answering the questions and saying the right things. But when we’re here and we get the 15 days of spring ball, to miss 11 of those, those are 11 missed opportunities. That’s the challenge that we’ve issued, I would imagine for every position group, but that’s the challenge me and Danny have with the offensive line group. We just have to keep stressing to them the importance of what they’re doing right now is going to be a telltale sign for when we do get the opportunity to come back.

Q: How have you seen the effects play out with spring practice being canceled?
HILLER: That’s tough, because that’s the biggest issue with our guys. The frustration from them, they’re telling me that they’re going out and they’re doing things, but having a guy next to you and the communication from the time a play is called and the togetherness of the unit, it’s not there right now. At first in my mind I wanted to tell these guys to go get some buddies, but obviously with social distancing as we are, we don’t want guys doing that. I’m telling them to pretend that they’re Peyton Manning calling an audible at the line of scrimmage, but get in their stance and imagine a play is called and then make a communication to the guy next to you, just have an imagination and play a game of football by yourself, but it’s hard. It’s frustrating for these guys and we actually hit on that in our position meeting today. I have a number that we talk about and it’s 45.5, that is that we’re 45.5 percent of the offensive players that are on the field every given snap. You’ve all heard us say big men lead the way, and I always compare the offensive line to the engine of a car. You can have a nice paint job, rims and tires, but if you don’t have a good motor that car is not going to get from point A to point B. It’s hard now for these guys. They’re itching to get back, but I told them we are where we are and everybody’s in the same situation, we’ve all been dealt the same hand and we have to be smart, continue to work and be as prepared as possible for when we do get the opportunity to come back.

Q: How has Harry Crider been at the center position?
HILLER: Harry in 2017 played center. In 2018 he was there at left guard and did some center stuff. Then last year he played guard and moving him back he felt comfortable and really liked the idea of moving inside. We have flexibility with him. I always talk about position flexibility, that has to be in the room within our unit. Harry is a guy that feels really comfortable in there at center, he likes having the ball in his hands, he’s very smart, he knows what we’re doing, he knows the calls. I wish that he could have had all of the practices, but he’s done that before and there’s really been no issues with the virtual practices. The biggest thing about Harry is the just the vocal part. He knows what to say, he just needs to get a little base in his voice at times and take control. He’s knows what to do in communication, he’s just got to be a little bit louder, more vocal, but he’s awesome. And that’s the thing, to the center position I always say that you’re the sheriff, and that’s how I talk to a room, he’s the sheriff and what he says goes. From there, whatever the center says and as long as we are operating off what he says then we’re going to have a chance to be successful on a play. If nobody knows what the sheriff is telling them to do, then we’re going to have problems. Harry knows that role and Charlie O’Connor and Cameron Knight, all those guys. Those are the guys we have working at center. Dylan Powell is another one, he’s very sharp. Mackenzie Nworah will work in there at times, as well as Mike Katic. There’s a lot of position flexibility in the interior. We just have to get back here to work so we know what the best way to go about it is.

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