Indiana has high hopes for 2019. That much is clear after two straight 5-7 seasons. The Hoosiers feel they have the talent to compete with the best teams in the Big Ten and the young players, especially those in the 2019 recruiting class, which is one of the best ever at IU, are intent on changing the culture in Bloomington and helping to create a consistent winner.
The first public steps toward creating that change happened Friday, as the Hoosiers opened fall camp on a beautiful, warm day, playing in the shadow of Memorial Stadium at their outdoor practice field.
Of course, all eyes were on the quarterbacks at the first day of camp, as will likely be the case for the next several weeks. There wasn't much separation between the group on this day. All three passers in the mix for the starting job under center showed why they're contenders for the job and they also all made some throws that won't cut it on Saturdays. The chemistry with the receivers isn't there quite yet: there were several drops because balls were thrown behind pass-catchers, but that will likely be ironed out as everyone gets used to each other. That's why coach Tom Allen has emphasized getting plenty of reps for all three quarterbacks: to make sure that the whole group is familiar with the personnel on offense.
Allen has said all along that Peyton Ramsey has the early lead in the position, simply because he was the starter last season. I didn't see anything today that made me think that's changed. Ramsey made the best play of the day – a 30-yard fade down the sideline – and looked fine handling the offense. He did overthrow one wide open deep ball and tossed a fluttering pass on another deep out route, but otherwise he wasn't bad. Jack Tuttle and Michael Penix Jr. were also up and down and will have to stand out to take the job.
One offensive player who really did stand out was redshirt freshman wide receiver Miles Marshall. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Marshall played in only one game last season, but he seems poised for a breakout this year. He caught several passes in traffic over the middle, showing off strong hands and the ability to locate the football on imperfect throws. He could be a weapon for the Hoosiers in 2019.
"He's had a great offseason, thought he had a really strong spring," Allen said of Marshall. "Thought he worked really hard this summer, caught a ton of balls, off the JUGS machine and all the things we try to do with those guys, throwing together, throwing more between quarterbacks and receivers. So, yeah, I've got big expectations for him. He's a big receiver that can run, is very smooth out of his breaks. ... I was encouraged by the way he made some really good, strong, contested catches."
As usual at this point in the offseason, the defense was ahead of the offense on a technical level. The defensive unit came up with a turnover at the end of practice when Reakwon Jones "stripped" Sampson James (in quotes because the whistle had probably already blown), setting off a wild celebration. That group had had several previous chances for takeaways, including a dropped interception by sophomore defensive back Samuel Slusher on a short pass over the middle from Tuttle. Every time the defense missed an opportunity for a turnover, the offending player immediately dropped to the ground and did pushups on the field. Takeaways are always a point emphasis for this Indiana defense and the Hoosiers are looking for more consistency this year in that department.
So, one day of Indiana football camp is in the books. I saw nothing that dissuaded me from the idea that the Hoosiers could take a real step forward this season. It's a long road, but the talent is there.