Indiana coach Kevin Wilson didn’t even need to pause Thursday night when asked the player who got the most out of the spring.
"I’d say [QB Nate] Sudfeld," he said after the Hoosiers wrapped up their final spring practice. "I think it’s the first time he’s taken over, it was the first time he was truly the guy. And I think he’s kind of grasping that his presence and voice counts -- and not that he has to give the 'Gipper' speech all the time, but just his body language and the way he goes about his work."
Unlike other Big Ten teams, Indiana played its annual spring scrimmage on Saturday and held two practices afterward. Wilson’s squad hit the field Tuesday and then for 90 minutes Thursday.
Here is an overview on the Hoosiers' spring and what it means going forward:
Reasons for optimism:
Sudfeld is back and healthy: When a previously injured quarterback attempts to tackle a 305-pound defender, it seems safe to say his left shoulder is feeling better. That’s exactly what happened with Sudfeld during Saturday’s annual scrimmage, following an interception. It wasn’t a "smart play" -- Sudfeld said as much -- but Sudfeld’s performance helped show he has rebounded just fine from his injury.
He finished 17-of-24 for 187 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But he played better than those numbers indicated. (Another score, for example, was wrongly ruled not a catch.) Overall, Wilson has been pleased with his progress this spring and, by most accounts, that injury appears to be well in the past. That should bode well for these Hoosiers; Indiana was 3-3 with Sudfeld last season and 1-5 without him.
"He’s our guy," Wilson said. "He’s our team guy, he’s our leader. And he’s been really good across the board."
The offensive line is deeper than last season, could be one of the B1G’s best: Left tackle Jason Spriggs should be one of the top offensive linemen in the conference this season. Need proof? According to the Hoosiers, he allowed just two sacks in 689 snaps last season.
It’s scary to think how good Spriggs could be this season, but he’s not the only reason to be excited about this line. Wilson has praised the unit this spring, and it has become pretty beefed up on the left side. Spriggs and tackle-turned-guard Dimitric Camiel are both 6-foot-7, with Spriggs at 305 pounds and Camiel at 319. Overall, the average starting lineman is just over 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds at Indiana. The only new face is Ohio State transfer and former four-star recruit Tim Gardner, who was forced to sit out last season and slid to the right tackle spot pretty early.
"Last year, when you have six games where you’re throwing it for 11 and 24 and 69 yards passing and you’re still running, you’ve got some blocking," Wilson said. "So most people don’t watch our games, but those five guys and those tight ends, they’re a good football group."
How will this running game look without Tevin Coleman? His replacement will almost certainly be Alabama-Birmingham transfer Jordan Howard, but Howard hyperextended his elbow in early April and missed the rest of spring practice. So, in a lot of ways, he’s still a wild-card.
Devine Redding should challenge Howard for carries, and he looked quick in the spring game. Assistant coach Deland McCullough also said that Redding was the second-fastest back on the team -- behind only Howard, who clocked a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. (Redding had a 4.52.) But just how will these two replace the production of a player who finished with a school-record 2,036 rushing yards? That one won’t be answered until the fall ...
Can the defense at least rise to "average" status? "It can’t get much worse" is something Indiana fans have been telling themselves for over a decade when it comes to the defense. Somehow, though, it still never manages to exceed expectations.
The Hoosiers ranked No. 93 in total defense and No. 100 in scoring defense last season. (Yes, sadly, that was still an improvement over the previous season.) This season, players should at least find themselves more comfortable in Brian Knorr’s 3-4 scheme -- but can they find any success? For every positive, there is a question mark. The pass rush seems to have taken a step forward, but cornerback remains an area of concern. Linebacker Tegray Scales could turn into something special, too, but the departure of linebacker David Cooper won’t make Knorr’s job any easier.
There were defensive flashes last season -- such as in the win against Mizzou -- but can this unit find any consistency?