After a much needed break and with an offensive coordinator change bringing new enthusiasm to a fanbase worn down by excessive short crossing patterns, it’s time to dig into the offensive situation that the new OC, whomever that may be, will inherit.
The chart below shows the number of possessions in which each offensive player appeared and then a percentage of the total 139 possessions that the IU offense played in 2018. It also shows the percentage of possessions played by players who are expected to return in 2019 and breaks possessions played down by class. Finally, it shows an approximation of the games missed to injury in 2018. It’s an approximation because (1) I used games as the measure rather than possessions, so instances like Whop Philyor’s 1 series appearance against Iowa were rounded down to a game missed, and (2) there may have been reserves who missed games due to injuries that were not disclosed to the public.
- 30 players saw non-garbage time action on offense. By class, there were 9 seniors, 7 juniors, 6 sophomores and 8 freshmen. Of the 8 freshmen, 6 were true freshmen and 2 were redshirts. In all, that’s probably a little younger group than one would prefer, but the class balance is actually fairly good.
- Among the six true freshmen to see action, four – Stevie Scott, Ronnie Walker, Matt Bjorson, and Reese Taylor – exceeded the new four game limit that a freshman can play and still retain a redshirt. Those four will be sophomores in 2019. The other two, Michael Penix and Miles Marshall, will be redshirt freshmen – although they got there in very different ways. Miles Marshall played in only a handful of plays during one series against Rutgers. Michael Penix played in 3 games and may well have seized control of the starting QB job had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury against Penn State.
- Since I started tracking participation by possessions in 2016, Wes Martin has missed exactly one non-garbage time possession. It came against Ball State this season. Aside from that one, Martin played in all 428 other series. Although Wes never quite ascended to Dan Feeney heights (few do), his durability and consistent performance will be missed.
- Martin included, the whole offensive line had a fairly healthy 2018 season. Aside from Coy Cronk missing half of the Minnesota game with an injury and the occasional missed series by others, the starting offensive line remained intact for the entire season.
- The only position that was truly hit hard by injury in 2018 was slot receiver, which luckily was the offensive position where IU had the most depth. When Luke Timian and Whop Philyor were both out in the middle of the season, IU had the luxury of turning to J’Shun Harris, a 5th-yr senior who had started in the slot as a freshman.
2019 Offseason Depth Chart
The beginning of the offseason is always an interesting time to analyze the depth chart. The 2018 seniors are gone, but the 2019 freshmen have not arrived[ref] Even the early enrollees can’t really to evaluated until Spring Practice at the earliest.[/ref] so there are always holes, but I’ve found it’s actually a good way to see where freshmen may find playing time or predict where the staff may look to add a grad transfer or two. This year is no different. The offensive depth chart below shows a good amount of experience, while also revealing a few potential trouble spots. As always, this depth chart is roughly based on IU’s published depth charts, but also reflects my own best guesses, especially as to 2nd and 3rd teamers at this stage of the offseason. The classes for each player listed in the chart and discussed below are what they will be in the 2019 season (e.g. Nick Westbrook is listed as a redshirt senior). All of this becomes even more interesting in light of Mike DeBord’s retirement and the forthcoming hiring of a new offensive coordinator.
As a reminder:
- Green = starting experience
- Yellow = appeared in non-garbage time, but hasn’t started
- Red = never played or at least never played in non-garbage time
A few notes:
- Might as well start at quarterback. We here at PJP figured Brandon Dawkins would win the starting job after Fall Camp. He didn’t and quickly quit the team and football entirely. Peyton Ramsey held on to the job he had won during the 2017 season and kept it throughout the 2018 season, with the help of Michael Penix’s season-ending injury in October. Now, given Ramsey’s so-so performance in 2018, Penix’s obvious potential, and the change in OC, I have Penix as the likely starter at this point. And of course, this depth chart does not include 4-star transfer Jack Tuttle, who could win the job outright or at least leapfrog Ramsey. While I hope Ramsey sticks around because he’d provide valuable leadership and depth, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he transfers elsewhere this offseason. In fact, I suspect he could grad transfer after the spring semester to play immediately with two years of eligibility left.
- The offensive line loses two long-time starters in Wes Martin and Brandon Knight, as well as center Nick Linder, who gradually took hold of the position from Hunter Littlejohn as the season progressed. Heading into 2019, I expect Littlejohn will return as the starting center, while fellow seniors Coy Cronk and Simon Stepaniak will also return at left tackle and right guard respectively. That leaves a couple holes at left guard and right tackle. Harry Crider and Mackenzie Nworah have both seen action at the interior line spots so my guess is that one of them will take over at left guard. I give the slight edge to Crider at this point. Massive redshirt sophomore Caleb Jones backed up Coy Cronk at left tackle last season and played against Minnesota in relief of Cronk. He seems to fit the profile of a mauling right tackle, and if Penix is the QB, he’d actually be protecting the lefty’s blindside. Absent a true or redshirt freshmen coming on strong and assuming the coaching staff feels comfortable with Jones protecting Penix’s blindside instead of Cronk, I expect Jones to take the right tackle job. After Crider, Nworah and Jones, there really aren’t any reserves with playing experience. I suspect that is why the coaching staff has been looking for JuCo linemen. Getting that next group ready will be key this offseason.
- The running back picture is fairly clear: Stevie Scott is the guy, while Ronnie Walker and Cole Gest are very good changes of pace. I expect Gest will have a 3rd down role, which was handled in 2018 by departing seniors Mike Majette and Ricky Brookins. Add 4-star freshman Sampson James to this already strong group, and IU has it’s best running back unit, top to bottom, since the Tevin Coleman/Stephen Houston/D’Angelo Roberts days. And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten Reese Taylor. I’ll get to him in a minute.
- The outside wide receiver spots seem fairly well covered by redshirt seniors Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale, followed closely by junior Ty Fryfogle. While I’m a little concerned that one of Westbrook or Hale will opt to grad transfer, I’m also hopeful that the new OC hire will limit that risk. At the moment, there appears to be a gap between those three and the next pair of reserves, redshirt freshmen Miles Marshall and Jacolby Hewitt. Those two may turn into great players, but I think most IU fans would be a little nervous if, due to transfers or injuries, Marshall and/or Hewitt were forced to play major roles in 2019. Luckily, it looks like Florida transfer and former 4-star high school teammate of Michael Penix, DaQuon Green, may help fill that void. If Green enrolls at IU and is immediately eligibility — both appear to be the plan at this early stage — Green could push for time along with the trio of Hale, Westbrook and Fryfogle.
- The slot receiver position remains in decent shape, if not possessing quite the depth it had in 2018. Whop Philyor is the clear starter, and if he can stay healthy, he should be poised for a big junior season. There isn’t a clear option after him, which is why I shifted Reese Taylor to second-team slot receiver in my depth chart. In 2018, Taylor was classified as a running back, but he was used much more like a slot receiver. With the new-found depth at running back (and quarterback, for that matter), it would seem to make more sense to let Taylor focus on slot receiver, where he can spell Philyor and play alongside him in 4-WR sets. I should note that Ty Fryfogle also saw a little action in the slot in 2018 and could certainly do that again in 2019 if necessary.
- While not a strength of the IU offense, the tight end position is nonetheless in better shape now than it was a year ago. Redshirt sophomore Peyton Hendershot is the clearcut starter and certainly has potential as a pass-catcher. Now the question is whether he can improve his run-blocking and become an all-around tight end. Behind him, sophomore Matt Bjorson is bigger and appears to be the better run-blocker, while lacking some of Hendershot’s athleticism. In Bjorson and Hendershot, IU has a promising duo with plenty of time to grow. Losing Austin Dorris to a grad transfer and Ryan Watercutter to graduation hurts depth, but some combination of redshirt junior Shaun Bonner and redshirt freshman TJ Ivy should fill that void.
Game Participation for Minnesota, Maryland, Michigan and Purdue
Yeah, I got a little behind here. The demands of The Real Job and my dwindling enthusiasm at the end of the DeBord Era were a bad combination. In any event, if you’re dying to see how many possessions Ryan Watercutter played against Maryland, by all means dig in.