IU hopes Roberson is armed and ready

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Tre Roberson's throwing arm was sore during Thursday morning's passing drills. And as far as Indiana is concerned, that's not a bad thing.

Roberson made a promising debut last season as a true freshman, starting the Hoosiers' final five games and showing off a strong mix of athleticism and poise. Now in his first college spring practice, Roberson is working on his passing. A lot.

"He's throwing it a ton," first-year Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. "He's not fully used to it. He's always been a spread, run type of quarterback."

The Hoosiers know that Roberson can take off and run, but that's not the only thing they want out of a quarterback. Littrell and head coach Kevin Wilson come from the Mike Leach/Oklahoma offensive system, where high-percentage passing makes everything go.

Wilson said the two easiest ways for IU to improve on its 1-11 record this season is to become a high-efficient passing team and to get more physical overall. Roberson completed 57 percent of his throws during his rookie campaign, which needs to go up. The good news is, the talent -- and the pedigree -- is there.

"I do think he has a skill set where I'll be very disappointed if he doesn't become a complete quarterback," Wilson said. "He throws it well, his mechanics are clean and I think he plays like a quarterback.

"It's nice that he has good feet and can make some plays on the run and you can design a quarterback run or run the option once in a while. ... But I don't think we can be an elite team running zone read or pulling it all the time."

At the beginning of last season, Roberson's path to playing time appeared uncertain. He was third on the depth chart behind Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel. Hotshot recruit Gunner Kiel, Dusty's brother, had committed to Indiana in the summer.

But injuries and ineffectiveness by Wright-Baker and the elder Kiel allowed Roberson to become the first true freshman ever to start for the Hoosiers. In his first career start, on the road against Iowa, he completed 16-of-24 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown and ran for 84 yards.

"I just wanted to bring fun to the huddle," he said. "We weren't having a lot of fun last year. So I was just coming in and smiling and saying, 'Let's go. We can do this.'"

Football is in his genes. His grandfather, Larry Highbaugh, played defensive back at Indiana and later in the Canadian Football League, where he won six Grey Cups. Highbaugh was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Roberson said he used to see CFL trophies all over his grandfather's house growing up. But he really remembers watching his father, Gajuan, play semi-pro football on Friday nights.

Tre led Lawrence Central High School to the state championship game and won Indiana Mr. Football honors. Roberson always knew he wanted to go to Indiana, where two of his grandparents and a couple of cousins had attended. He committed when Bill Lynch was still the coach and kept his word even through the coaching change. The Hoosiers' less-than-stellar tradition never deterred him.

"I just felt like, if I came here I'd have the ability to help it change," he said.

Now he's the center of that effort to change things. Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel both transferred in the offseason, and Gunner Kiel wound up at Notre Dame. Tre Roberson looks like the future at Indiana. His arm better get ready for lots of work.