BLOOMINGTON — Front teeth are overrated. Mick Mentzer is proof of that. Sometimes when you seek intimidation, when you don't just want to play mean, but look mean, you scrap the conventional.
So Mentzer bagged the front tooth. He'd lost it a while back, gotten a crown, and then it broke. He's in the process of getting a new one, and while he has a fake tooth he could wear, well, would Jack Lambert wear one? Would Ray Lewis?
“I worked out in winter conditioning without my tooth in, so it was cool,” the Indiana defensive tackle says. “It kept me mean.”
Mentzer arrives at the Memorial Stadium team room huffing-and-puffing mean in white Under Armour T-shirt. He and some teammates have just finished post-football-practice running, a consequence for not putting forth the necessary effort in the last practice before spring break. This was the first practice back and coaches have long memories.
“We're graded off the practice film and depending on if your effort is high enough determines whether you have to run,” says Menzer, a former Bishop Dwenger standout. “We were all running after practice.”
Coaches will grade this practice film. What if the effort isn't high enough again?
“Oh, there will be consequences,” Mentzer says with a smile. “For sure.”
Welcome to a whole new Indiana football world. Coach Kevin Wilson and his staff push the pace. Wilson calls it active teaching. Learning comes by doing, not watching, at full-throttle speed.
“It's exciting,” Mentzer says. “We're all trying to catch on right now. Coach is keeping the tempo high. We're trying to think and react and keep up with what's going on and what we're putting in each day, so it's tough. It's helping us learn fast and think fast on the move, especially when we're tired. It's putting us in game-like situations. It's driving it into our heads.”
The 6-4, 306-pound Mentzer figures to have a key role next season. He is one of six returning defensive starters. Last year as a sophomore he totaled 20 tackles with a sack. He's looking for more, and so is Wilson.
“Mick is a tough guy,” Wilson says. “He likes to compete. He brings it every day. He has a good attitude. We'd like to have more guys like him. He's not necessarily physically the most gifted, but he's the total package — he likes school, has fun, has good energy, likes to play, loves a challenge, is competitive.
“He has that combination of off-the-field, on-the-field characteristics. He's going to be a good player, a good leader, for us.”
The Hoosiers practiced twice before spring break. They'll have 13 more spring practices before wrapping up next month. Those who worked out during the break had an edge on those who didn't.
“If you were smart, you worked out,” Mentzer says. “I don't know if too many people were doing that. A lot of guys were on vacation in Florida.”
“The conditioning needs to be better. It needs to pick up.”
IU broke out the pads for the first time on Tuesday. Players were instructed to hit, but not take anyone to the ground.
“It was nice to have the pads on,” Mentzer says. “We'd had enough of that no-pad, full-go stuff. We don't like that. We got to thud up a little bit.”
Thudding centered on the Oklahoma drill, where you have a running back, an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman. They have to stay in a three-yard area. On the whistle, the running back goes and the defensive lineman tries to get though the block to make the tackle.
“It got exciting and a little rowdy,” Mentzer says. “It was cool.”
If you didn't get off the block to make the tackle, was there more running? “No, just getting embarrassed, basically,” he says.
Mentzer hopes to learn the nuances of the new defense (a 4-3 scheme in Nebraska's image) by the end of spring. He's all for Wilson's win-now approach. “It's a way of life. It's the way we come in each day. We were that close last year, the last couple of years. There are extra things we have to do and Coach is enforcing those steps. We're all buying in. It's only a matter of time.”
Mentzer flashes a gap-toothed grin. Look mean, practice mean, play mean. The only thing left is to win.