BLOOMINGTON -- Kevin Wilson doesn't want his quarterbacks wearing dresses. Indiana's football coach understands that the position requires a toughness only practice hits can deliver.
The key -- be smart about it.
So as the quarterback battle takes early shape in preseason camp, and the coaches insist there is a battle despite Tre Roberson's returning-starter status and no other returning experienced quarterback, the hands-off approach doesn't apply, within reason.
“I wouldn't mind them getting roughed up a little bit,” Wilson said. “Let that happen a little. We'll get them hit, but not total free-go hitting. We might thump them and get in their face. Hit them above the waist and hit the ball to make sure they can take care of the ball.”
There can't be a repeat of last year's 1-11 disaster and the key, Wilson said, starts with better quarterback play. That means ensuring everybody is motivated, driven and tough. And if that means bagging the quarterback-as-untouchable approach so many college teams employ, so be it.
“There's a fine line there,” Wilson said. “We'll hit them, but any time they scramble, we'll just say you're dead there.”
Less than a week into camp and Wilson said Roberson has no lock on the starting job. Roberson faces stiff competition from junior college transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld.
“Tre has worked,” Wilson said, “but the other two guys are really working. They're working in meetings. They're asking questions and I see pages of notes. One had eight pages of writing everything down. When it's break time they're meeting with coaches or sitting with us, resting and watching tape. I didn't even ask. One guy did it and then next guy came and then they're all there. Tre is doing well, but they're all pushing themselves.”
That pushing is paying dividends, quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns said.
“Right now we're letting them all rotate,” he said. “They're dead even in terms of number of reps. It's a wide-open competition, as it is for our entire team. We're a program that won one game last year, so I don't know that anybody has a spot locked down. We'll let as many guys as we can go compete. That's the best thing we can do for our program.”
That's fine with Roberson.
“They're pushing me. I'm getting better. I'm learning from them, just like they're probably learning from me.
“I love the competition. It's making me better. Passing-wise it's making me smarter and more accurate. Those guys are good passers and are accurate. I know I have to match their accuracy and their ability to throw the ball.”
If you look at the numbers and experience, Roberson would seem to have an overwhelming edge. He was highly touted as a dual-threat Indiana Mr. Football out of Indianapolis Lawrence Central last season. He became the first true freshman in school history to start at quarterback. In five starts and nine games overall he completed 57 percent of his passes for 937 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 426 yards and two TDs.
Last year as a freshman, Coffman threw for 2,244 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions for Arizona Western Community College, which reached the junior college national title game. He participated in spring practice.
Sudfeld is the biggest quarterback at 6-5 and 215 pounds. He threw for 2,332 yards, 31 touchdowns and just six interceptions last year as a senior for Modesto Christian High School in California. ESPN.com rated him as the nation's No. 14 quarterback.
Competition can create team-chemistry-wrecking tension if the players handle it the wrong way. Wilson said that's not happening with the Hoosiers.
“Everywhere I've been where there's a competition, if the egos stay in check and everybody wants it, and if teammates push each other, then they're all the better for it. Right now we've got little bit of that. Maybe selfishness and ego comes eventually, but really good players and teams check that. Right now they're pushing themselves and that's helping them all.”