This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts reviewing the 2008 Hoosiers unit-by-unit, considering who returns and what sort of production IU lost to graduation or other attrition.
Until a few weeks ago, because Kellen Lewis was suspended indefinitely, it wasn't clear what sort of experience IU would return. The good news is that setting aside fakes and other trick plays, IU returns all of its passing production from last year. The bad news? Kellen Lewis, second team all-Big Ten last year, missed all of spring practice and technically is competing with last year's backup, Ben Chappell, for the starting job.
Kellen Lewis, redshirt junior: Lewis improved during his first full season as the starter. He completed 60 percent of his passes (up from 54 percent as a freshman) and threw 28 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. He ran for 736 yards and 9 touchdowns and averaged five yards per carry. While Lewis is back, he lost his primary touchdown target, James Hardy, who caught 17 of Lewis's 17 touchdowns. The biggest concern about Lewis's performance is fumbles. Fumble stats are surprisingly difficult to come by, but Lewis fumbled a lot, particularly in the second half of the season.
Ben Chappell, redshirt sophomore: Chappell played in three games and threw only two passes. One was a 14 yard completion. The other was the most infamous play, or at least most questioned play call, of the season. IU led 14-3 at Northwestern, and Kellen Lewis was shaken up on a second down play. Facing 3rd down and 6, Chappell came in for his first meaningful snap as a college player. Instead of a conservative play call, Chappell tried to find James Hardy, but instead threw an interception that NU returned for a touchdown. Certainly, the bulk of the blame for that play belongs to Bill Lynch and his staff, but considering Chappell's resume compared to Lewis's two years of experience, it's hard to imagine that this really is an open competition for the starting slot.
While the fullback position is a question mark, IU returns every running back who took a snap last year. None of the returnees were dominant last year, so this position could be a bit unpredictable.
Marcus Thigpen, redshirt senior: All reports are that Thigpen has bulked up during the offseason. Good. Although he nominally has been the starting running back for more than a season, Thigpen has never emerged as a reliable, every down, up the middle back (cliche alert). Last year Thigpen averaged a so-so 4.1 yards per carry and ran for 568 yards and no touchdowns (he did manage 181 receiving yards and three touchdowns). In the absence of James Hardy, it will be important for IU to find other means of moving the ball, and a more effective traditional running game would be a good start. While he wasn't as effective in 2007, in 2006 Thigpen was one of the finest kick returners in the country. Hopefully, Marcus will rediscover that form.
Bryan Payton, redshirt junior: Payton, who writes a blog and spent the summer writing for the Indiana Daily Student, was IU's third leading rusher, behind Lewis and Thipgen. Payton ran for 368 yards and average 4.2 yards per carry and scored 4 touchdowns.
Demetrius McCray, redshirt junior: McCray's sophomore season was injury-plagued. He played in only three games, but was very effective when he did play: 138 yards on 22 carries. As a freshman, McCray ran for 320 yards and two touchdowns, but only 3.6 yards per carry.
Trea Burgess, redshirt sophomore: Burgess played little, rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown on 4.3 per carry.
Josiah Sears. Sears ran for only 144 yards and 3.2 per carry, but he scored 4 touchdowns on the ground and caught another four touchdown passes. He certainly had a knack for finding the endzone in red zone situations and will be missed more than his overall stats would suggest.
I'll discuss newcomers as the season approaches.