IU's Roberson 'rusty,' looking for rhythm

Indiana QB Tre Roberson is ready to return to the field after playing in just five quarters in 2012. AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

The first and most important question, especially for a mobile quarterback recovering from a broken leg, is how Tre Roberson is feeling.

"Really good," the Indiana signal caller told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "My leg, it doesn't hurt or anything, so it's probably about 95 [percent]."

Roberson, whose promising start to the 2012 season was cut short when he broke his leg in the second quarter of the second game, began working out and throwing passes two days after Indiana's season ended in November. He participated in winter workouts and has been fully cleared for spring practice (like IU's other quarterbacks, he isn't taking contact).

Although he's not "all the way back" mobility-wise, he's getting closer every day.

The next question, arguably just as important, concerns Roberson's reintegration to the practice field. Although he separated himself as Indiana's top quarterback last summer and looked very good early on, racking up five touchdowns (3 rush, 2 pass) and 501 yards in five-plus quarters, he hasn't taken meaningful snaps for six months.

"I'm a little rusty, still out here thinking a little bit, trying to get back into football form," he said. "I've just got to remember where to go with each coverage, and just look at the defense and know what's going on. Playing quarterback, you've always got to be in the flow. It's always the rhythm of the game, so when you're out for a year, you lose that rhythm.

"I’m trying to get that rhythm back."

Roberson has found his groove in spurts, completing several passes in a row during drills. The goal for the rest of the spring is to feel the rhythm more often. Indiana's no-huddle, up-tempo spread offense demands it.

"Our offense is pretty rhythmic," Roberson said. "Everything is timing."

Hoosiers offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said he hasn't overloaded the unit with tempo during the first part of spring, but it's coming. Indiana's speed and efficiency in running plays helped the offense rise from 83rd nationally in 2011 to 34th last season.

IU loses only one offensive starter from 2012 (center Will Matte) and boasts arguably the Big Ten's deepest wide receiving corps and a line with several promising young players. The offense will play fast this fall, perhaps faster than it did last season. Roberson's challenge this spring, interestingly enough, is slowing down.

"He's got to slow the game back down a little bit," Littrell told ESPN.com. "His strengths are on the perimeter, and he can definitely pull the ball down to run. But what comes with that is maybe you're a little quick-footed in the pocket and you get a little quick to run. He's just got to be able to settle in there.

"He can make the throws, he can sit in the pocket tall and he can be a quarterback and read defenses, so he's really improving on that."

Roberson finds himself in the same position as last summer, needing to beat out Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld for the starting job. The difference now is both Coffman and Sudfeld now have extensive experience in the Big Ten.

Coffman started Indiana's final 10 games following Roberson's injury and passed for 2,734 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Sudfeld saw the field in seven games and passed for 632 yards with seven scoring strikes and only one interception. Both have displayed a great comfort level this spring, Littrell said.

"It makes it more competitive," Roberson said. "Both of them are good quarterbacks. They can be the starter, just like I can. I'm learning from them because they had a lot of reps [last] season."

Littrell describes the quarterback spot, like every other offensive position, as "wide open," and the competition among Roberson, Coffman and Sudfeld almost certainly will stretch into preseason camp.

Head coach Kevin Wilson is looking for winning qualities in his quarterback, noting that while all three have put up nice numbers, none has consistently led Indiana to victories.

"He's looking for somebody with a good attitude, willing to put in the extra work and just keep our standard," Roberson said. "Being poised, standing straight up, looking the defense and the offense in the eye and just leading the team.

"I try to bring that energy and that drive."

The leadership element never left the 6-foot, 200-pound Roberson, who continued to encourage his teammates from the sideline last fall. In 2011, he became the first true freshman to start at quarterback in team history, making five starts and racking up 937 pass yards and 426 rush yards.

His task the rest of the spring is to regain the form he showed during those first five quarters of 2012.

"Everything was super slow," he said. "It felt like I was out at practice. I'm trying to get back to that feeling."