Five takeaways from Indiana University’s spring football season

Indiana University head football coach Tom Allen runs to the sidelines before a game against Wisconsin last Nov. 4 in Bloomington. (Photo by the Associated Press)

There wasn’t a lot of spring in the air when Indiana University’s football team finished off spring practice. In fact, the Cream & Crimson game Saturday was moved indoors.

But the rebirth of spring, the promise of spring, the optimism of spring – all of those aspects were fully intact for the Hoosiers as they head into coach Tom Allen’s second season.

Here are the five biggest takeaways from IU spring football practice:

1. The quarterback position is wide, wide open

Even before the addition of Arizona graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins, who will join the team this fall, this key position was up in the air. Peyton Ramsey returns, but the addition of incoming freshman Michael Penix Jr. added an element of uncertainty only increased with Dawkins joining in.

Allen liked what he saw from the quarterbacks in camp, and was particularly effusive in praise of Ramsey.

“Here’s what I tell our football team: I want guys that I can trust,” Allen said. “I want guys that are tough. I want guys that are dependable. And that to me defines Peyton Ramsey, and that’s a young man that’s going to help this football team win a bunch of games. Whatever that role may be, he may be the starter, and I know that’s what he wants, but the bottom line is he has all those intangibles you want in a young man.”

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Dawkins’ arrival nonetheless makes fall camp even more interesting.

“It’ll be challenging,” Allen said. “To be honest, I think that’s one of the realities of a guy joining in June after spring is already done. But he’s also not a freshman out of high school. That’s a major difference. …What we have to do a great job of is meshing his previous knowledge and skill sets to what we do.”

2. The offensive line made huge strides

Allen pointed to Wes Martin, the fifth-year senior guard, as the leader of the unit. Martin has started 25 straight games at left guard, and 31 in his career. He was the team’s most outstanding linemen last year, and Allen calls him “Mr. Consistency.” He was named Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the spring.

Martin’s high standards carried over to the whole unit this spring.

“I really loved the way they gelled,” Allen said. “Yes, we have everybody back from last year, but that’s a critical part of our team. We’re only going to be as good as we are up front on both sides of the ball, and they’ve been so impressive in the weight room. They’ve been so impressive in practice.”

3. The linebackers corps shows promise

IU lost its best linebackers from last season, Tegray Scales (first-team All-Big Ten) and Chris Covington (honorable mention All-Big Ten). Finding production in that unit is essential, as it’s a foundation of Allen’s defensive philosophy.

Marcelino Ball, a defensive back who missed nine games with injury last season, is now in the “husky” position a linebacker/safety hybrid, and his play-making skills will be essential.

“He’s bigger, stronger and faster, and what I need to see him do is be more consistent,” Allen said. “He has got a tremendous skill set. His ceiling is high.”

Allen pointed to linebackers Mike McGinnis, Thomas Allen (the coach’s son) and Reakwon Jones as progressing significantly during the spring.

Jones was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the spring.

“Mike McGinnis and Thomas Allen really improved a lot at the linebacker position, and that to me is a huge void for us in our defense,” Allen said. “(We) have such a young group of guys and so many new faces, we should be talking about somebody different every single week, and that’s what I hope.”

4. Speed remains an emphasis

Allen said he felt good about the team’s overall speed, which he expects to be better this fall. That includes both sides of the ball. The offense was without receivers Nick Westbrook and Donavan Hale, who are nursing injuries.

“Every time someone comes and watches us that hasn’t seen us in a while, they’ll comment about the way our team looks and how well we move,” Allen said. “So obviously part of that is recruiting, but a big part of that with the guys that are here is our strength staff.”

5. Allen’s optimism remains contagious

Part of Allen’s appeal as a coach is his unrelenting optimism and positive approach. His passion is undeniable. College football teams don’t win games on attitude alone, but it is essential to make everything work.

“It’s a process and a progression that you build,” Allen said. “So when you talk about this phase of it, we have certain goals set up for spring football, and I feel like we’ve accomplished those goals and came out of the spring game pretty clean. We’ve got a couple guys dinged up, but neither one of them seems to be any long-term type of injury. I feel pleased with where we’re at because the attitude and effort, the two things that those guys completely control, I thought was excellent throughout the spring.”

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