BLOOMINGTON — Don't be surprised if Indiana receiver and Wildcat specialist Mitchell Evans ends up back in the secondary.
Why? Because the Hoosiers have a need, Evans has a talent and, as coach Bill Lynch says, “We want the best players on the field.”
That's among the changes IU coaches are considering in the aftermath of a 4-8 season. The Hoosiers lost seven of their last eight games to finish last in the Big Ten.
“We were very disappointed in how it turned out,” Lynch said. “No one is satisfied with 4-8. We're working every day to keep the progress we've made, and we have made progress. We competed. We had a consistency in preparation and work ethic. … There is going to be adversity in whatever you do. Tough things will happen. If you have a strong foundation, you stand up to it.”
Lynch will meet with returning players next week. Position changes will be discussed and, given the Hoosiers' receiving depth and secondary uncertainty, and the fact Evans played safety as a freshman before moving to receiver (he caught 33 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns this season, including 10 catches for 112 yards against Purdue), another switch seems likely. Lynch wouldn't talk specifics Tuesday until he meets with players.
“Some positions are stockpiled and we can't stockpile guys,” he said. The Hoosiers will return eight offensive starters, including former North Side standout Damarlo Belcher. The sophomore had 61 catches for 770 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow sophomore receiver Tandon Doss earned All-Big Ten honors after totaling 77 catches for 962 yards and five touchdowns.
Belcher and Doss lead perhaps the conference's best group of receivers. IU also is solid with QB Ben Chappell, who threw for 2,941 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. The only thing freshman tailback Darius Willis needs is more durability. He rushed for 607 yards and six touchdowns in nine games.
The defense will have to be rebuilt after losing all-conference defensive end Jammie Kirlew and other standouts such as defensive end Greg Middleton, linebackers Will Patterson and Matt Mayberry, and safeties Nick Polk and Austin Thomas.
Five defensive starters return. So does backup defensive tackle Mick Mentzer, a former Bishop Dwenger standout. Look for former Bishop Luers standout Lawrence Barnett, who redshirted this season, to have a chance to make a significant impact next season as a defensive back.
“Lawrence could be an outstanding corner,” Lynch said.
IU has 21 commitments in a recruiting class rated last in the Big Ten and No. 73 overall by Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service. The highest- rated recruit is Cincinnati defensive end Pete Bachman. He is rated No. 45 nationally at his position.
Ratings, however, don't always reflect college potential. Lynch and his staff redshirt freshmen unless they are fulltime starters, such as Belcher, who did start as a freshman.
“To build a consistent winner, we need to develop kids,” Lynch said. “We get the right kids to work with and develop. We have the best strength coach (Mark Wateska) and staff in country. Get them in here, put them in the weight room for 12 months and three to four years down the road it all pays off.”
Coaches already are on the recruiting road, some to ensure committed players remain committed, some to focus on junior college players and defensive backs.
The fact Lynch only has two years left on his contract doesn't help. Lynch said he knows negative recruiting from other schools will happen, but it happens all the time anyway.
“I haven't had (concerns about the contract),” Lynch said. “I sell recruits on my vision (for the program) and what we'll do here and why Indiana is the right place for them.”