Indiana completed its second spring practice on Tuesday, and head coach Kevin Wilson knows his team needs a lot of work. The Hoosiers finished 1-11 and went winless in the Big Ten while playing numerous true freshmen in Wilson's first season. Things can only get better in Year 2, and Wilson recently spoke to ESPN.com about the state of his program and what he hopes to accomplish this offseason:
You played so many freshmen last year, many of whom were not even on campus this time last year. Does that put you ahead a little bit going into spring?
Kevin Wilson: I wouldn't by any means say ahead because, number one, it's their first spring. So they're still trying to figure out what spring is all about. They're doing those offseason workouts, the morning conditioning programs and running. Some of these guys, you're like, "Hey, you've been playing," so you expect them to do really great. Instead they're doing good or fair or whatever. And you're sitting there looking at the kid, and really, he's been here for like seven months.
So we've got to be smart as coaches to realize we're still extremely young, and we've got to continue bringing them along instead of maybe having greater mental and physical expectations than guys are ready to fill right now.
Is there a different attitude or energy in Year 2 now that everyone knows what to expect from you?
KW: Yeah. I don't think it was bad the first year. I just think there's a much better understanding from them to me and me to them. An understanding of the typical day, what I expect as a coach, but also the dynamics of what they're going through as students here. The ebb and flow of Monday through Saturday here.
Your team was competitive at Ohio State late in the year and played Purdue tough in the finale. Did that give you any optimism that things were starting to get better?
KW: Yeah, and that's the disappointing thing. As hard as guys were working, you want to be rewarded with W's, and we were on the wrong side of that stick too much. But if you didn't know anything and just watched us practice down the stretch, you wouldn't have sensed it. There was a much more positive environment and much more potential for better outcomes than we were having. We were a really good practice team, our energy was high and the kids really got in sync with what we were trying to do. The more the young guys played the more comfortable they got.
At the same time, you want to win and we didn't get much of that done at all. It's nice to show that maybe we're not that far away, but ultimately when you're not winning games, you are far away.
Defensively, your numbers were obviously bad. How can that improve this year?
KW: It's the second year in the system and also now for us the second year in the league and understanding it. Maybe we'll tweak some things in the system scheme wise. Subtle things. I don't see any wholesale changes, but just in the leverages of players, situations, when to attack and when to not, how to help people and how to hide people. In the second year, we need to make as much improvement mentally. Broken plays, busted assignments -- that happened way too much. We can't give up the big plays.
We brought in five junior college guys and this spring we have two safeties, two linebackers and a defensive end here right now. They're all going to be in the two-deep. It's only Day 2 and we're not in pads yet, so there's lot of work to do to determine where they'll fall. But it looks like on defense and special teams we'll need them to come through, and I expect them to.
You have starters back at defensive tackle, but what about the defensive end spot and improving your pass rush this season?
KW: Ryan Phillis really played his best from the Ohio State game on. I think he had like nine tackles before that and then 10 at Ohio State, and he played really well against Purdue. Ryan's a guy who showed up the summer of his freshman year and had a broken ankle, and his first workout was when I got here. So he had one spring and then last fall. So he wasn't even a true redshirt freshman. He really came on late, which was good to see.
Bobby Richardson was a freshman we moved to D-line and he really came on strong. Those two guys will be sophomores now. We got a junior college guy [Justin Rayside] who's got speed off the edge. And I really like the background of coach [Jon] Fabris from Georgia. He'll be a nice addition. We had a very good coach there who we lost [Brett Dierson] but we were lucky to have coach Fabris because he brings a great deal of expertise there as well.
Speaking of coaching changes, you also have a new offensive coordinator in Seth Littrell. In what ways will the offense change with him running the show?
KW: I think the change will be in some ways how we're practicing the pass game and some subtle ways. Not the plays that are called but how to run some routes, and some quarterback progressions to bring greater continuity and rhythm to the pass game. I think the plays will look very, very similar and the formations and mindset will be very, very similar, but I think the means will be different.
Coach Littrell is a direct descendant of [Mike] Leach. He worked with him for five years and also worked with [Dana] Holgorsen for five years. So I think we'll be a little cleaner and a little bit more into that type of passing game. The plays will look a lot alike, but the execution, the way they're practiced and the developing of the quarterback and wide receiver position, I'm hoping we'll see some significant gains there.
At quarterback, Tre Roberson really emerged for you midway through last season as a true freshman. How do you see his development continuing?
KW: He's another one of those guys who's been here seven months. Saturday was his first spring practice ever. So there's still a learning curve of getting through it the first time. Coach [Kevin] Johns and coach Littrell will do a nice job of developing him as a passer, and I think he has the skill set to develop into a really solid, strong quarterback. I don't think he's an athlete. I know he can run well, but I think he's a guy who's going to be a complete player and bring some great things to the passing game. And I believe he's going to be a great leader, but he's still young and has a lot of work to do.
How's the state of your receiving corps this spring?
KW: A little thin. Duwyce Wilson is coming off a knee injury. He's healthy but not he's allowed to practice yet, though he's ahead of schedule and looks good. I think we'll see some good things out of Shane Wynn and Kofi Hughes and even Ted Bolser, with the way the passing game will be taught and implemented by Coach Littrell. Ted will be a very nice complement and you'll see him as maybe more of a receiving threat at tight end.
Cody Latimer and Jay McCants were two freshmen who showed some flashes last year, so we've got a bunch of freshman coming back. We've got Nick Stoner, who just set a record in the 4X400 and qualified for the NCAA indoor [championships], so he's a fast kid. It's just a young crowd. But as we go through spring and if guys on their own have a great summer ... Tre can do well but he's not going to do well until he and those those receivers play well for one another.
Stephen Houston came on as your leading rusher last year, and now you finally have some depth at running back. Will you look to spread the ball around more there?
KW: You need to, because they're getting beat up enough there that you can wear a guy out. It's not just games during the season -- you've still got to be a great practice player to play on Saturday, and there's wear and tear from practice. Even when you've got a great back, you need a nice complementary guy. You look at NFL teams, most of them are playing two or three [running backs] and it's the same deal in college.
So now we've got D'Angelo Roberts, we've got Matt Perez back, Isaiah Roundtree is a kid who transferred in and I'm very intrigued by, and then we signed a really good player in Tevin Coleman. Last year, every running back in the spring seemed like they were hurt. This year, it's a little bit better, and we should be in a solid position by fall, we hope.
Finally, you played so many young players and don't have a lot of seniors. How is the leadership on this team?
KW: Every team has leaders, whether they're good or bad. Every is team being led by players in a locker room, by a core group of guys. We've worked really hard this offseason and did a couple neat little things I'm not going to get too detailed about. We've been able to do some team building. We are trying to develop leaders and put our players in charge and take ownership for our actions on the field, off the field, in season out of season, on campus and in the community.
It's been going really pretty good, but once you get some adversity, that's where the leadership is going to come in. We've had about 6-to-8 really good, behind-the-scenes [leaders]. Even though it's young -- we've only got five seniors -- I think it's significantly better than a year ago. I think it's developing. But I'm really looking forward to seeing when we get a bump in the road, do we have great, positive leadership. I won't know that until we get a couple hiccups and see how we respond.