Free food and drink for the first 3,000 fans. Think dogs and brats. A 22-foot slide and bumper cars for the kids. A chance to take your photo with the Old Oaken Bucket. And then there is the beer tent …
But what about the on-field attractions for Saturday’s Cream and Crimson game, set for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium?
Fans will have to wait till fall to see the Alabama-Birmingham transfers, running back Jordan Howard and wideout Marqui Hawkins, temporarily sidelined by respective elbow and wrist injuries.
Howard’s absence has allowed Devine Redding more opportunity this spring to prove he’s a Big Ten-caliber back, however, and has provided more reps to impressive walk-ons such as Andrew Wilson (Columbus East), Ricky Brookins (Terre Haute North) and Alex Rodriguez (Lawrence Central).
There is still plenty for the discerning fan to see, at running back and elsewhere. And here are some suggested things to look for:
WHO IS THE BACKUP QUARTERBACK? AND THE BACKUP TO THE BACKUP?
Chris Covington, last fall’s No. 2 before both he and starter Nate Sudfeld went out for the season with injuries at Iowa, shifted to linebacker this spring. With last year’s off-season transfers and the ensuing injuries among the quarterbacks, IU found itself undermined offensively during the season. The Hoosiers obviously hope to avoid any recurrence, but are in dire need of player-development at this most crucial of positions.
Zander Diamont stepped into the fray with little preparation last fall and improved steadily, capping the campaign with perhaps his best half of football to help beat Purdue and retain the Old Oaken Bucket. He is fleet of foot and unafraid. Danny Cameron, son of former IU coach Cam Cameron, was a late add last summer and has raised some eyebrows this spring. His arm-strength has improved, as have other elements of his game. Both can continue to make cases for themselves today. The Hoosiers need them to.
WHO WILL STAND OUT AT CORNERBACKS?
Indiana has historically had better luck attracting offensive backfield skill and speed than has been the case regarding the defensive backfield. And there is a clear need for DB development this year, with last season’s starting cornerbacks Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter having exited.
Rashard Fant, a sophomore who came in rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, saw action last fall and is now up from 155 pounds to 175. He ran a “slightly under a :4.43” in the 40 this spring according to IU cornerback coach Brandon Shelby. Fant, classmate Noel Padmore and others will bear scrutiny Saturday at what is, especially in this pass-happy day and age, an especially crucial position.
WHICH NEWCOMERS HAVE SURFACED IN A CROWDED OFFENSIVE LINE PICTURE?
Tim Gardner, the 6-foot-5, 310-pound former Lawrence Central standout who initially attended Ohio State, is now getting some time at the No. 1 right tackle spot after transferring and sitting out last season. Redshirt-freshmen Wes Martin (at guard and center) and Delroy Baker (tackle) and JUCO transfer-redshirt DeAndre Herron are also already working with either the first or second units.
A big recent shift (literally) involves Dmitric Camiel going from tackle to the left guard spot. He is 6-7, 319. That mean’s IU’s purported, as of now, No. 1 line (Jake Spriggs, Camiel, center Jake Reed, right guard Dan Feeney and Gardner) combines to average 6-5, 305. That’s getting into Wisconsin-sized territory. (And stick Wes Rogers in at center instead of Reed and the average poundage goes up to 308.)
CAN ANYBODY HERE GET OPEN AND THEN CATCH A FOOTBALL CONSISTENTLY?
Indiana coaches hope they’ve eradicated the infestation of drops that plagued their receivers late last season. Shane Wynn is the only notable departure from this group, which will rely heavily on underclassmen. Ricky Jones is one of the older players looking for a breakout year, and after two relatively quiet seasons, the junior has put together a nice spring and should be in the mix for a starting job later this summer.
There’s a lot to like about shifty slot receiver J-Shun Harris, who is Indiana’s most productive returning pass catcher. Harris is very likely the only player in this group to have a starting job locked down. Dominique Booth and Simmie Cobbs each have high-end potential in Kevin Wilson’s offense and today will provide a glimpse of whether or not they’re beginning to harness and utilize it. With more newcomers set to arrive this summer, this is an important time for those receivers already on campus to assert themselves and seize the opportunity to stand out.
HOW ARE THE DEFENSIVE LINE FRONT POSITION CHANGES PANNING OUT?
The Hoosiers are trying to offset a big loss with a big move. Gone is defensive end Bobby Richardson, an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection last season. Moving back to the line is Nick Mangieri, who authored a standout season playing the bandit position in 2014. Mangieri played up front during his first two seasons at IU, but is now adjusting to Brian Knorr’s 3-4 scheme and the lateral movements that are required in it. He added weight in the off-season, going from 260 pounds to 270 and giving IU a viable option as a pass rusher off the edge. Behind Mangieri, Zack Shaw will take over as the bandit.
Then there’s Darius Latham, who could be poised for a breakout year after earning a starting job last season. The former four-star recruit is perhaps IU’s most talented player up front, especially if his motor is always running. Where Mangieri and Latham blend agility and strength, nose tackle Nate Hoff is all power. Hoff benches 500 pounds and squats 655.? They’ll all be pushed by serviceable backups. Adarius Rayner has started in the past and could yet again. The same is true for Ralph Green III, while IU coaches seem to be very high on the upside and spring returns from Shawn Heffern and Robert McCray, who moved from bandit to the line this offseason.
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