The increasing availability of vaccines, the playing of the NCAA Tournament and the simple existence of spring football practice have made things start to feel a little more normal at Indiana, but the Indiana football program was reminded last week that things aren’t still entirely normal yet.
The Hoosiers cancelled practice last Thursday for a reason undisclosed at the time, and Indiana coach Tom Allen confirmed at his press conference Wednesday that it was in fact COVID-19 related. The Hoosiers didn’t need to pause and returned to practice Saturday. However, in another move that made clear that everything isn’t quite back to normal, Allen also announced on Wednesday that the Hoosiers will not have a formal spring game. They will scrimmage on April 10, their last practice, but that will not be open to the public.
“That will allow us to be able to maximize our days and maximize our preparation,” Allen said. “That’s what’s best for our program right now. … You get 15 days and to me those days are critical. You look at where you are and what you want to accomplish. We had a minor setback last week with COVID, and just being able to maximize our guys in preparation for what comes next, our end of April workouts and then the summer months, I just wanted to make sure every day we had we maximized it to the fullest.”
Allen hopes the summer will be more normal, but he can’t say that for certain. The program is still testing constantly, still constantly wearing masks and adhering to social distancing guidelines that prevent more than 15 players from being in the same place at the same time outside of practice. He hopes to see that change when players get vaccinated, which they will soon be eligible for, but he can’t force that to happen.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a positive thing,” Allen said. “I’m scheduled to get mine here soon. We’re encouraging our guys to do that. It’s a decision they have to make. We can’t make it mandatory for them to do that. I do feel like any time you get a chance to get a large number to get their vaccine and making a positive impact on taking away the spread of it, that’s something you want to be able to do. The ultimate goal is to get back to having a level of normalcy in our season for 2021, to be able to have uninterrupted preparation over the summer, which is critical for all this. Right now we’re still in a similar mode to where we were in the fall.”
They’re certainly further along than they were last spring when practice was cancelled and they had no idea when they might return to the field — “we had no answers,” Allen said — but there is still a lot that isn’t certain about how long they might have to continue following testing guidelines and generally keeping players tightly controlled. He also doesn’t know when recruiting might get back to normal with official visits instead of virtual ones.
“We don’t have a ruling on that yet,” Allen said. “Camps over the summer. There’s a lot of unknowns. We’re not out of the woods of all of that. A lot of the plans are still in pencil.”
There is just hope that next season looks different than 2020 when the games start.
“I feel good about the direction we’re going,” Allen said. “I feel good about the prognosis of a fall that has fans in the stands. That’s not a final decision. That’s not anything that’s been 100 percent decided yet, but that is the hope and I think it’s fair to say the expectation to be able to do that.”
More notes from Allen’s press conference follow;
— This season being what it is, there hasn’t been much of any opportunity for even the media to get a read on who has performed well in spring practice and how the depth chart may have been shaken up so far. Allen was asked what units and what players have impressed him so far and gave a fairly extensive list.
On offense, he mentioned freshman tight end A.J. Barner, freshmen offensive linemen Tim Weaver and Randy Holtz, and Florida State transfer wide receiver D.J. Matthews. On defense, he mentioned freshman defensive back Bryson Bonds, Ole Miss transfer Ryder Anderson, freshmen defensive linemen Damarjhe Lewis and C.J. Person, freshman defensive back Chris Keys and senior safety Raheem Layne, who missed all of last season with an injury. He also mentioned punter James Evans of New Zealand, who has never played football but has huge leg strength.
“The bottom line is that it’s a collectively strong group that’s good on both sides of the ball,” Allen said. “… We’re excited about where we are. We just have to stay the course and keep going.”
— Allen was asked specifically about this thoughts on Jack Tuttle so far. The redshirt sophomore quarterback played the last two games last season after Michael Penix tore his ACL. Freshman quarterback Dexter Williams tore his ACL earlier in spring practice, so Tuttle has had all of the work with the first team.
“I feel like he’s continued to grow and develop,” Allen said. “I think that any time you’re thrust in there to have all the reps with the ones, which is what he’s had, that’s a great thing for him. The biggest thing for me is just to continue to grow as a player. You grow in your leadership. … He’s been part of our leadership council and he’s been challenged in that way. He’s been challenged as a football player. The more you play the more reps you get. The more reps you get with the 1s and going against our No. 1 defense which has a lot of good players on it. He has to throw the ball in a lot of tight windows. I’ve seen him do that and be able to make some of those throws and those quick reads and learn and grow.”
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