March 7, 2011

Wilson has high hopes for hapless Indiana

How success-starved is Indiana? Since going to the Independence Bowl after the 1993 season, Indiana has been to one bowl - the Insight in 2007.

Enter Kevin Wilson, the former Oklahoma offensive coordinator. His marching orders: Try to make Indiana football relevant.

It won't be easy.

Cam Cameron (18-37 from 1997-2001) couldn't do it. Neither could Gerry DiNardo (8-27 from 2002-04), Terry Hoeppner (9-14 from 2005-06) and Bill Lynch (19-30 from 2007-10).

Wilson will attempt to awaken the echoes of the Bill Mallory era (1984-1996), the last time IU football mattered. Mallory took the Hoosiers to six bowls and had victories over the likes of Michigan and Ohio State.

Wilson's tenure got off to a rough start, as four assistants he hired left shortly after arriving to take "better" jobs. Still, the Hoosiers' staff looks to be a solid one. Improved facilities also will help Wilson, who, among other things, must find a quarterback, improve the offensive line and tighten a defense that ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring (34.0 ppg).

Here's a look at Indiana as it prepares for Wilson's first spring practice with the program.

INDIANA AT-A-GLANCE
Kevin Wilson is the next coach who will try to make Indiana relevant.
THE BASICS
COACH: Kevin Wilson
LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 1-7 in Big Ten.
SPRING DATES: March 8-April 16.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum seven starts last season)
OFFENSE (6): WR Damarlo Belcher, TE Ted Bolser, C Will Matte, T Andrew McDonald, G Justin Pagan, G Aaron Price. DEFENSE (6): LB Leon Beckum, E Darius Johnson, FS Donnell Jones, T Mick Mentzer, T Adam Replogle, LB Jeff Thomas. SPECIAL TEAMS (2): K Mitch Ewald, P Chris Hagerup.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH: Even with the departures of WRs Terrance Turner and Tandon Doss (who left early), receiver still looks strong with senior Damarlo Belcher and sophomore Duwyce Wilson. Belcher led the Big Ten in receptions last season (78), and Wilson averaged 15.3 yards per catch as a freshman. Ted Bolser led all freshman tight ends in the nation with 27 catches. The strongest area on defense is tackle. The Hoosiers have four juniors - Larry Black, Adam Replogle, Mick Mentzer and Nick Sliger - who have seen a lot of time the past two seasons. The group took a little bit of a step back last fall after showing quite a bit of promise as freshmen in 2009, but they are talented and experienced.

HELP IS NEEDED: Who will play quarterback? Ben Chappell, a two-year starter, is gone. Sophomores Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel (former Notre Dame and NFL QB Blair Kiel's nephew) are the top contenders. Poor offensive line play has been a recurring issue for Indiana, which ranked 112th in the nation in rushing (100.3 ypg) last season. Trea Burgess led the team with a paltry 352 yards rushing, and he's gone. Until the issues up front get fixed, the Hoosiers will struggle to be good on offense. They lose only one starter from last season's line (standout T James Brewer), so it will be interesting to see how this group develops under the guidance of Wilson, who is known as a good offensive line coach. Last season, the secondary was poor all-around. Some of that was because of inexperience and some was because of injuries to key players.

3 GUYS TO WATCH

CB Lawrence Barnett: Barnett, a sophomore, could provide a boost to a secondary that needs help. Barnett saw some action in 2010 at safety after that position was hit with injuries. But his future is at cornerback. Barnett has a shot to win a starting spot this spring.

LB Chase Hoobler: The previous staff resisted the urge to play Hoobler as a true freshman last season, and that should pay off for the new staff. With Tyler Replogle gone because of graduation, there's an opportunity for a young guy such as Hoobler to play.

WR Kofi Hughes: He arrived in Bloomington having never really played wide receiver and still was able to get playing time despite playing one of the deepest positions on the roster. Hughes is a big (6-2/200), fast player who has everything a coach is looking for in a receiver. With Tandon Doss and Terrance Turner gone, there's a chance for Hughes to make a statement as a sophomore.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

DE Fred Jones: For whatever reason, he never seemed to live up to his potential under the old staff. But Jones, a 6-4, 272-pound senior, has a world of ability and could be a major factor if the new staff can push the right buttons. If Jones can put it all together, he could give the defense a presence at end that it sorely missed last season.

THE BUZZ

Wilson brings an impressive resume to Bloomington, as he helped oversee some of the nation's best offenses while at Oklahoma the past nine seasons. But can he cobble together a strong defense? That likely will be what ultimately determines his long-term success. The anemic unit forced a Big Ten-low 13 turnovers in 2010. Wilson's staff will begin to address issues on the offensive line and in the secondary this spring. But Wilson's biggest job this offseason will be trying to instill a winning attitude.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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