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Indiana tries fun before football fire

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For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Hoosiers set for spring practice

Friday, March 7, 2014 - 6:10 am

BLOOMINGTON – Indiana offensive line coach Greg Frey made a perfect pass. He really did. In the midst of a sprint team relay with and against fellow football coaches, Frey tossed a tennis ball to the next man up. That helped the offensive coaches beat the defensive coaches and the offensive players celebrated at the Mellencamp Pavilion.

There was just one problem: It broke the rules. Frey was supposed to hand it to the next guy.

Kevin Wilson noticed.

On the defensive team, cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby missed his relay turn. Why is unclear given Shelby is fast, nimble and not someone you want to face in a relay that involves running about 10 yards to a pylon, placing a tennis ball on it, running around another pylon then coming back to the pylon to get the ball and sprint to the finish.

It broke the rules.

Wilson noticed.

And then Wilson did what all coaches do when something is done wrong: He made them do it over.

This time Shelby ran and, not surprisingly, won, to help the defensive coaches win, which set off a defensive player celebration.

Welcome to fun before spring practice fire. The Hoosiers are wrapping up winter conditioning with spring practice set to start Saturday. Yes, basketball season is still going on, but this is an era when sooner rules later, and after three straight losing seasons under Wilson (improving from 1-11 to 4-8 to 5-7), the quest to reach a bowl game can't start soon enough.

One message is clear: Bigger is better. It's why Wilson changed his offseason conditioning program. Yes, he wants fit and fast guys, especially on offense given his preferred up-tempo style. But power still matters, especially in the run game. The Hoosiers don't plan to become Wisconsin, but they'd like to get very physical when the situation requires it.

That means getting bigger and stronger.

“We haven't done as much heavy running so we could lift more,” Wilson said.

Size matters, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. Hoosier coaches target a specific weight for each player. By the end of last season, 25 players were less than their target weight. This spring, it's four, by 1 pound each.

“We ran decent last year,” Wilson said. “We were fourth in the league. But on competitive third downs and short-yardage plays and goal-line stuff, we need (to be better).”

Quarterback intrigue figures remain a Wilson tradition. The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in passing yards (306.7 a game) last season with quarterbacks Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld sharing the load. Roberson threw for 1,128 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also rushed for 423 yards and five TDs. Sudfeld threw for 2,523 yards and 21 TDs.

What does that mean for this spring and next season?

“It is what it is now,” Wilson said. “They're different, but their performance levels are very similar. In a perfect world, you'll have one guy. We didn't last year. ... They're part of the problem, but they also led the conference in touchdowns … We have a lot of problems. Quarterback isn't one of them.”