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Indiana’s football team opened training camp on Friday. Head coach Kevin Wilson is pleased with the Hoosiers’ depth, although he acknowledges there’s plenty of room for improvement. One of the hottest competitions is to decide who will be IU’s starting quarterback. That’s also one of the five biggest questions IU must answer before the season begins Aug. 29.
EDIT: Coming out of IU’s media day on Monday, I wrote about the team’s improvements in strength and conditioning. More after the jump…
By Andy Proffet
BLOOMINGTON — For all the attention being paid to Indiana’s annual quarterback competition, the Hoosiers’ chances of significant improvement this season depend just as much on finding the right players on defense.
IU had the Big Ten’s worst defense statistically a year ago, a familiar place for the Hoosiers.
“Defensively, we’ve got to make strides,” head coach Kevin Wilson said Monday during the team’s media day.
Part of that process is simply having more depth, thanks to an influx of freshmen and junior college transfers. Still, that depth took a hit with the dismissal of cornerback Antonio Marshall for violation of team rules and an injury to linebacker Chase Hoobler.
Hoobler, who missed the final six games last season, was expected to start at weakside linebacker. But he’ll have surgery on a stress fracture in his foot and will likely miss the season.
“It’s really more unfortunate for him, then us, because I think our team’s getting (deeper),” Wilson said. “When I’m talking depth, I’m not talking about injury, the depth is for competition.”
The Hoosiers need that competition, especially at linebacker.
“Linebacker wise, we need some (players to step up) more there than at defensive line,” Wilson said. “Because I don’t think our linebacker play has been high since I’ve been here.”
“We’ve got to be quicker reacting to the football, and I think some of that comes with kids having the knowledge of the system,” defensive coordinator Doug Mallory said.
Another significant key to improving the defense is improving communication on the field. Mallory emphasized that on Friday, when the Hoosiers opened camp.
“We’ve got to do a better job communicating (on the field). If you’re not communicating sometimes, it may be because there’s some indecision in a young man’s mind,” Mallory said.
After a few days of practice, Mallory said the communication is better, but still a work in progress.
“I think our kids are doing a better job talking, a better job communicating, getting the 11 guys all on the same page,” Mallory said. “I think you can eliminate some of the mistakes when you’re constantly out there talking. We’ve got enough guys who have played football here who understand our system.”
The defense will also try to stay keep three linebackers on the field more often on early downs, instead of using nickel or dime packages that leave the Hoosiers susceptible to the run.
“We’ve got to the point now where we feel like we’ve upgraded some of the athleticism at the linebacker spot so some of those kids can get out there and play in space,” Mallory said. “We’re not matching or subbing nearly as much as we did our first two years.”