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Westbrook injury is deja vu for IU football



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The freshman offensive lineman Coy Cronk, 54, congratulates wide receiver Nick Westbrook, then a sophomore, after scoring against Wake Forest last season. Westbrook is out for the remainder of the 2017 season after tearing an ACL during the opening kickoff of the season-opener against Ohio State. Noble Guyon Buy Photos

IU junior wide receiver Nick Westbrook's season lasted all of eight seconds.

It was enough time for Westbrook to huddle up as part of the kickoff coverage team, move out wide to the right of senior kicker Griffin Oakes and sprint downfield in pursuit of Oakes' opening kickoff against No. 2 Ohio State last Thursday night.

By the time the play ended, Westbrook was down on his back with both hands clutching his helmet. Westbrook limped off the field with the help of three IU training staff members and failed to return to the game.

The status of his health was unknown until Coach Tom Allen provided an update during his weekly press conference Monday. Westbrook is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL, which was discovered on Saturday after he underwent an MRI.

"Sometimes life's not fair, things happen and it's tough," Allen said. "He's got a good attitude about it, he just knows that this is a challenge he has to overcome. It's unfortunate, but it's part of the game."

It is the second straight season in which IU has lost a big-name wide receiver early on.

Last year, junior wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr., who posted 149 receiving yards against the Buckeyes, went down on his first offensive snap of the season.

A distinguishing factor between the injuries suffered by Cobbs and Westbrook was the game situation during which each injury occurred. Cobbs' came while he was lined up as a wide receiver on offense, and Westbrook's came while he was on special teams coverage.

Allen defended his decision to put Westbrook on the kickoff coverage team, something IU also does with senior linebacker Tegray Scales on the punt coverage team.

"We've got to have our good players play special teams," Allen said. "I don't regret putting him on the kickoff team. That's what you do, you put your best players on the teams."

When Cobbs suffered his season-ending ankle injury against Ball State last season, it was left to Westbrook and others to replace his production.

This year, the opposite may be true. While Westbrook was listed behind Cobbs and junior wide receiver Donavan Hale on the IU depth chart, he returned the most production of any IU wideout with nearly 1,000 receiving yards last season.

At least in the short-term, the Hoosiers were able to cope without Westbrook. IU had 10 different players catch a pass during the loss to Ohio State, including five players with at least four receptions.

Cobbs and Hale were among this group.

"It's one of our deeper positions," Allen said. "Younger guys got to step up, opportunities to be given to them and that's what this is about. When one individual has a challenge, somebody has to rise up and create his own opportunity and take advantage of it."

Options at the wide receiver position are still plentiful for senior quarterback Richard Lagow. Lagow clicked well with junior wide receiver Luke Timian, who plays primarily out of the slot position, as the pair combined for 10 completions against the Buckeyes.

Production from the tight end position also increased in the first game under new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord. Junior Ian Thomas caught five passes, two of them for touchdowns, while junior Ryan Watercutter also made two catches in his first game as a scholarship player.

"Ian, I thought played really well in the passing game," DeBord said. "He's got to do better in the running game part of it, just using his hands a little bit."

DeBord said IU's offensive line and tight ends all needed to use their hands better to help the IU run game, which mustered less than 20 yards against Ohio State.

But at least in the passing attack, Thomas and Watercutter provide Lagow with two more options through the air, options that prove more important with Westbrook lost for the season.

DeBord responded "no" to a question about IU's offensive strategy changing due to Westbrook's injury, meaning it's on the IU players to replace his productivity.

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