Wide receiver Nick Westbrook is ready to return from injury after missing all but the opening play of last season
The Indiana Hoosiers came painfully close to playing in a bowl game for the third season in a row for the first time since the mid-1980s. Purdue beating the Hoosiers to become bowl eligible and keep Indiana at home was just pouring salt on the wounds of the 2017 Hoosiers. After losing some key players on each side of the football, Indiana head coach Tom Allen has some maintenance to do in order to get his program to bounce back as the competition continues to thicken in the Big Ten in 2018.
5 Storylines to Watch During Indiana’s Spring Practice
1. Quarterback battle begins
Following the departure of Richard Lagow, the Hoosiers are in need of a new starting quarterback. The spring begins with Peyton Ramsey (above, right) the top candidate to win the starting job for the fall after appearing in nine games last season and completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,252 yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman. Ramsey winning the job should not be a considered a given though with redshirt freshman Nick Tronti ready to compete for the job, and freshman Michael Penix likely to provide some athleticism to the position to open things up.
2. Replacing key players in secondary
The Hoosiers are losing some significant defensive leaders with Rashad Fant, Tony Fields and Chase Dutra leaving Bloomington. That leaves two starting jobs along the back end to fill. A’Shon Riggins backed up Fant last season and may be likely to move into the starting role at the vacant cornerback position, but Dutra’s backup from last fall (Zeke Walker) has transferred to leave that job wide open. Jonathan Crawford and Khalil Bryant could be the top two contenders for the spot.
3. Finding a playmaker
Wide receiver Simmie Cobbs was the definitive go-to guy when Indiana needed to make a play on offense last fall. He’s gone now, so who steps up to take on that role? While Indiana may not be able to replace Cobbs with one player, having two injured receivers back from injury could be uplifting. Nick Westbrook and Donavan Hall combined to appear in four games last season. Westbrook was Indiana’s leading receiver in 2016 and Hale showed great promise two years ago as well. Assuming Westbrook returns to full strength in 2018, he should rank among the Big Ten's top receivers.
4. A foundation on the offensive line
While Indiana is looking to replace some big spots at the skill positions, the Hoosiers can take comfort in knowing the entire starting offensive line is due back for 2018. That helps provide some consistency for the offense and could allow this unit to grow together and take another step forward.
5. Plugging in linebackers
One other position to keep a close eye on at Indiana will be the linebacker position. The Hoosiers lose two key starters, Tegray Scales and Chris Covington. Losing two of the top tacklers means there is a lot of production to replace on that side of the ball. Having Marcelino Ball return from injury should help in a big way, but Indiana also will hope to see some breakout performances this spring from guys like Kiante Walton, Mike McGinnis and Reakwon Jones.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.