The IU football depth chart is going to be put to the test early and often in the 2020 season.
With redshirt senior Marcelino Ball out for the season after tearing his ACL, head coach Tom Allen said in a press conference Monday the team will have to look for others to step up on the defensive side of the ball, both in their play and as leaders.
Allen said junior Bryant Fitzgerald will likely be the starter at husky this season for the Hoosiers, replacing Ball. Sophomore D.K. Bonhomme and junior Jamar Johnson will be taking reps in practice to prepare for games as well.
IU will also have to face the potential of a coronavirus outbreak in a pandemic-shortened season. Allen said the team has discussed how they'd react if players or coaches tested positive and were ruled out.
“You’re hoping that the rapid daily testing would eliminate that from happening as much,” Allen said. “We’ll find out once we start playing the season what the numbers look like.”
IU Athletics has administered 1,200 daily rapid coronavirus tests so far and has had one positive test, which wasn’t a player or full-time staff member.
With different eligibility rules this season, Allen said the roster has opened up for younger players who would normally be redshirted to get some opportunities. In a typical year, they would have a list of guys who are limited to four games in order to be redshirted, but they don't have to worry about that this season since the NCAA approved a blanket waiver allowing all 2020 fall sports athletes to retain a year of eligibility.
Allen said he also expects sophomore Tiawan Mullen to step up for the team after a freshman season that got him named as an All-Big Ten honorable mention.
The team has been doing 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills in practice, all with no contact and only helmets. Allen said they will start full-contact practice with pads Wednesday as they work toward the first week of the season.
IU starts against No. 10 Penn State, so it will have to be ready off the bat, but it has experience opening the season against a highly-ranked Big Ten opponent after playing No. 2 Ohio State to begin the 2017 season. The Hoosiers lost to the Buckeyes 49-21 in the opener of Allen’s first full season as head coach.
“There's no ramping up on your schedule this year," Allen said.
After watching the first few weeks of games in other conferences, Allen said he'd point to special teams as one of the main areas he thinks IU needs to be ready for. IU has had special teams meetings every morning, showing clips from games that were played the previous weekend.
Building toward offense on game day has been steady, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. coming back from injury and Nick Sheridan taking over as offensive coordinator. Allen said the team has been able to make up for lost time over the last several weeks through drills and live reps after not being able to work over the summer.
“Every year it's a different group,” Allen said. “Even though we got a lot of guys back, it’s still never going to be the exact same as it was the year before."
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