Mum’s the word in the IU quarterbacks room this offseason.
Coach Tom Allen, offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan all have a major secret and they’ve all been doing a fine job of keeping it.
That big secret, of course, is who the Hoosiers’ front-runner is for the starting quarterback position. Whenever a question is asked about the situation, Allen, DeBord and Sheridan usually give the same kind of vague, cryptic answers.
“I’m not going to get into that.”
“We’ll keep that between the staff.”
“It’s still an open competition.”
Although the battle between senior Brandon Dawkins, sophomore Peyton Ramsey and freshman Michael Penix Jr. has largely been kept under wraps, each candidate has been able to stake their claim so far during offseason practice.
It’s made for an intense competition in which Allen and the other coaches have been impressed with all three options.
“We’re telling whoever the guy is, ‘I want you to make it obvious,’ and it hasn’t been made obvious yet,” Allen said. “We’re still waiting on that but I will say I am pleased with what the guys are doing. I feel good about where we are and I feel like we have multiple guys that can play, and we all know as the season progresses, you’re going to need a bunch of guys.”
Even though the competition has been fierce, it’s also been friendly. Dawkins, Ramsey and Penix Jr. all said they’ve been focusing on improving their own games and encouraging one another during practice.
It’s led to each of them getting plenty of reps in practice, getting snaps with each unit and giving the coaches an opportunity to pinpoint each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
“It’s a competition but we’re all pushing each other to do great because we all want what’s best for the team at the end of the day,” Penix Jr. said.
Dawkins may be the most experienced candidate when it comes to actual playing time on the field but the least familiar with the Hoosiers’ offense. After coming to IU as a graduate transfer from Arizona this April, Dawkins has had the least amount of time out of all of IU’s quarterbacks to learn DeBord’s offense.
He showed promise as a mobile quarterback for the Wildcats from 2015 to 2017, throwing for 15 passing touchdowns and rushing for around seven yards a carry and 20 touchdowns in 23 games played.
Even though he hasn’t gotten as much practice time in Bloomington as Ramsey and Penix Jr., Dawkins said he’s starting to get used to how Allen and his staff run their program.
“It’s very fast-paced,” Dawkins said. “I’ll admit, the first couple of days, I was out here and I was kind of gassed. I was throwing up between drills and trying to get back on my feet. I was just trying to breathe the first couple of days.”
On the flipside of Dawkins is Ramsey. He got to learn Allen and DeBord's system quickly as a freshman in 2017 while splitting time as the Hoosiers’ starting quarterback with Richard Lagow, so a battle for the starting position is nothing new for him.
He completed 65.4 percent of his passes, while throwing for 1,252 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions in nine games last year.
“Peyton is a competitor by nature so being in a competition is nothing new for him,” Sheridan said. “Certainly, having Big Ten playing experience, you can’t simulate that in a practice setting. You can’t get 1,000 people out there screaming and hollering. I know for him, that has calmed things down for him and made him just more aware and better.”
Meanwhile, Penix Jr. is the talented young gun of the group after coming out of high school as a highly-touted recruit. In two years as a starter at Tampa Bay Tech High School in Tampa, Florida, he threw 61 touchdowns and only six interceptions during that time.
He’s been around Bloomington a bit longer than Dawkins and got some important reps in IU’s spring game, and Sheridan said they’ve been impressed with his composure against the college competition so far.
“Even from his first day of spring practice, we’ve really been pleased with his composure, with his poise,” Sheridan said. “The game doesn’t seem to be too fast for him for a true freshman, which isn't often the case.”
Allen said he wants to make the big decision prior to the week of the Hoosiers’ first game on Sept. 1 at Florida International, so the coaches’ silence will likely continue until then.
As each quarterback continues fighting to be the top dog on the depth chart, Allen and his staff still have a tough choice awaiting them.
As Ramsey says, what makes it even more difficult is just how similar each of the options truly are.
“We all have similar skillsets but we all do our thing a bit differently,” Ramsey said. “The thing that’s been fun is just learning from them. Brandon, having played in a Power Five conference, he knows a lot of football and Mike is growing up and learning fast. We’re all very similar but we all do things kind of differently and I think that’s a good thing.”
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