Indiana camp strategy targets long haul

Indiana's preseason camp this year had all the usual ingredients: heat, position competition, scheme review, scrimmages, heat, two-a-days, conditioning.

Did I mention heat?

The one element Indiana's coaches decided to scale back, however, was full-blown tackling. Indiana had its share of contact drills, but you didn't see nearly as many players taken to the turf.

"We stayed up as much as we possibly could, a lot of thud practice, tried to control some of the full scrimmaging," head coach Bill Lynch explained. "We've done some pretty extensive studies here, and a lot of injuries that kept guys out of games occurred in practice and particularly preseason practice.

"So we took a little different approach, but we think we're very prepared to play a game."

The strategy makes sense after watching Indiana the last few seasons. The Hoosiers' first-string players on offense and defense typically can hold their own against most if not every team in the Big Ten. But there has been a noticeable drop-off after the starters.

You could see it last fall in the Iowa game, which took place on Oct. 31. The Hoosiers were thin in the secondary and played most of the game without starters Nick Polk and Ray Fisher. The absences caught up to IU in the fourth quarter as Iowa broke open the game with big pass plays.

"We looked at our woes in the month of November and what could be the cause of those woes," co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic said. "We were either worn down or not having our starters in November. So it's knowing what's happened in the past and doing something a little bit different."

Palcic said Indiana tried to model its practice after those in the NFL, where the speed and intensity remains high even though there's less tackling to the ground. Indiana did hold two full-contact scrimmages, and not surprisingly, three players ended up going down and needing surgery, including cornerback Chris Adkins (ankle).

Coaches often struggle with determining how much contact to have in the preseason. Northwestern had a bunch of injuries last summer and backed off, only to pay the price early in the season with several poor tackling performances.

Can Indiana's strategy still prepare players for a season where opponents never will back off?

"You never really know until you play, but we tried to get our guys legs back underneath them," Lynch said. "It's always a grind no matter what you do in terms of the physical part. Football's a different kind of game, and you have to do different things that you really can't simulate in offseason conditioning. So that part always wears on your body.

"I think what we're doing is the right approach for us, and we'll see once we get into the season."