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Indiana Hoosiers football: Five key players for 2018 as camp opens

Indiana wide receiver Nick Westbrook (15) hauls in this pass against Maryland during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. Indiana won the game 42-36. (AP Photo/Sam Riche)

As the Indiana Hoosiers open football camp for 2018, there are many more questions than answers.

First among them is: What’s a legitimate goal? Finishing above .500 and earning a bowl bid must be considered the minimum in coach Tom Allen’s second season at the helm. Secondly, who’s going to play quarterback? Allen has three in the mix, none a sure thing to win the job.

One the season draws near, however, there’s no question a few players much step up and deliver their finest seasons.

Here are five key players for the Hoosiers in the months ahead:

“Quarterback TBA”

Will it be returning redshirt sophomore Peyton Ramsey, graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins from Arizona or true freshman Michael Penix Jr.? Or will it be some combination of those three? Dawkins is intriguing, given his experience and success in a major program. Ramsey was very good at times last season. Penix has the proverbial unlimited potential. Allen will have to make some sort of decision during the next couple weeks simply for the rest of the offense to become comfortable with the leader on the field. Allen said Thursday he has set no timetable for making the decision.

Wes Martin, offensive lineman

One positive for the Hoosiers is experience on the offense line, and Martin – a fifth-year senior – stands to be the leader of a group that also welcomes graduate transfer Nick Linder from Miami. Martin has already helped set the tone with his commitment to improving his strength and conditioning while keeping his knowledge of the game sharp. An offense goes nowhere without a quality line, and the fact IU could claim this as a strength is encouraging.

Nick Westbrook, wide receiver

Westbrook went down with a torn ACL on the first play of the 2017 season and his loss was a huge loss for the Hoosiers’ big-play capability. Westbrook led the Big Ten in 2016 with 40-plus yard receptions (seven) and had 11 30-yarders and 16 20-yarders. He caught 54 passes for 995 yards (18.4 yards per reception) two years ago. All those numbers add up to one thing: A major offensive threat. No matter which of the three quarterback candidates ends up with the job, they’ll do well by finding Westbrook as often as possible.

Jonathan Crawford, safety

Crawford has started 38 games, so he’s been a mainstay of the Hoosiers defense and his career totals include eight interceptions five fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. He’ll be counted on to have a hand in those change-of-possession plays on defense that often determine close games.

Dameon Willis Jr., linebacker

Willis decided to return for his fifth year of eligibility and it’s a huge bonus, along with transfer T.D. Roof, to a linebackers corps hard hit by graduation. Willis has been a solid player in his time with the Hoosiers but if they are going to thrive on defense, he’ll have to lift his performance above where it’s been in the past. His high point of last season (seven tackles against Michigan State) needs to be the norm this time around. Because he did not participate in spring practice, he starts third on the depth chart.

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