Indiana offensive linemen 'prehab' for season

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Injuries ravaged Indiana's roster last season, and no group was hit harder than the offensive line.

The Hoosiers used seven different lineups and shuffled nine linemen onto the field in 2008. For a unit that relies on cohesion and chemistry more than any other, the constant fluctuation led to predictably poor results.

To make sure the same thing doesn't happen this fall, Indiana's linemen are taking their health more seriously.

"What we're doing now is what we call prehab," starting left tackle Rodger Saffold said. "I call it prevention treatment. Everybody goes in [to the training room], even though they could be fully healthy, and they get every piece of soreness worked out, jams, anything. It could be just a scratch. We make sure we get everybody in there to keep anything from happening in the future.

"If you came down to Indiana, you would go into the training room and you'd think we were having an offensive [line] meeting in there."

It's not just the starters who prehab. Second- and third-stringers also get treatment every day during camp, knowing full well after last year that they can be called upon for duty at any time.

The training-room parade didn't exist last summer, and Indiana paid the price when the games started.

"They always say that you can't have the experience without making the mistake," Saffold said. "We made the mistake last year of not getting prehab, so everybody ended up getting hurt. It all started off with soreness. Then it started getting tight and then injuries started occurring.

"We really needed to go in there and make sure we got everything cleaned out, ironed out and ready to go."

Saffold has been Indiana's most durable lineman, starting 29 of the last 33 games for the Hoosiers. But even he wasn't immune from injuries last fall, battling back problems the whole season and missing two games with a knee injury.

"Even with soreness, anything, I get it checked out now," he said. "I feel 100 percent. It couldn't be better to go out on the field not wearing that plastic [back] brace any more."

A few injuries have cropped up in camp, but Saffold attributes them mostly to the increased physicality during practices. Indiana hopes to jump-start its run game with the pistol formation, which allows the backs and the linemen to focus solely on moving forward.

Saffold and his linemates have welcomed the pistol.

"Everything's downhill," Saffold said. "Makes us more physical. It's about pushing the linemen off the ball, getting to the linebackers, knocking them out the way. People are going to be surprised when they see our running game. Man, I love [the pistol]. It's such a great thing to have.

"It's not so much finesse any more, like it used to be. It's all about coming off the ball and hitting somebody in the chest."

The arrival of the pistol and the disappointment of a 3-9 record last season has increased the tempo at IU's practices.

"This is the most physical camp we've had," Saffold said. "Everybody's helmets look like we've been chopping it up with an axe. It's been ridiculous. I can tell the whole team is hungry again."