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Indiana’s offense will have plenty of extremely tall (and good) weapons in 2017

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Tom Allen’s initial season at the helm could be poised to be Indiana’s best season in recent memory. The first of our five-part way-too-early preview looks at the projected starters for 2017.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Northwestern Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Start the hype train now.

If there’s ever going to be a Year for Indiana football, 2017 has as good a chance as any. Next season, Indiana will return 17 of 22 starters, return crucial stars that missed the 2016 season with injury, and face a more-than-workable schedule with 7 teams that finished below 85th in the final S&P rankings of the 2016 season. It’ll all kick off with Kevin Wilson’s return to Bloomington with Ohio State on Thursday, August 31.

Whew.

Over the course of the next month, we’ll be taking a too-early preview look at the 2017 season. Today, we’ll start with the offensive skill position personnel.

Quarterback

Losses: Zander Diamont

Key Returnees: Richard Lagow, Peyton Ramsey, Austin King

How much Indiana’s 2017 lives up to the potential will likely be determined by the quality of play Mike DeBord’s new offense receives from the most important position on the field -- and how much growth occurs at that position in the offseason,

After an up-and-down 2016, it’s not unfair to say that Richard Lagow hasn’t inspired tons of confidence across Indiana’s fanbase heading into next season. But, pending any unforseen arrivals in the offseason, he’ll be by far Indiana’s most experienced signal-caller and have the inside track at the starting job next season as the returning starter.

Lagow’s far from a lost cause at quarterback. The big Texan has all the physical tools of an NFL quarterback, but seemed to lack poise, confidence, and chemistry through last season. There are some general quarterbacking items that need improvement (footwork isn’t great, release point too low, progressions could be more fluid), but if Shawn Watson is a quarterback whisperer, Lagow is a perfect mound of clay.

It’s also conceivable an effectually new offensive will want to go in a new direction. Indiana’s previous offensive staff was thought to love redshirt-freshman-to-be Peyton Ramsey’s upside. Austin King and Danny Cameron would also stand as options.

Running Back

Losses: Devine Redding

Returning: Camion Patrick, Tyler Natee, Mike Majette

Replacing a two-time 1,000-yard back in Devine Redding is never easy, but Indiana as equipped as one could possibly be — if you’re to believe the now-departed Kevin Wilson’s hype for Camion Patrick. The former Tennessee commit & East Mississippi Community College star’s college career has been a lengthy road, but he’s set up to finally star in his last season of eligibility. Initially thought to be an instant contributor upon his signing in early 2015, Patrick redshirted the 2015 season with academic eligibility issues & then tore his ACL in April 2016 season, well before the season could get underway.

Though he was massively limited in only a few appearances, a still clearly injury-limited Patrick showed flashes of his athleticism and ability at wideout (there instead of running back to lessen the physical impacts of his early return to the field) through the 2016 season. He’ll be counted on to be Indiana’s workhorse at running back in 2017.

Some even believe he would’ve been Indiana’s starter had Redding returned.

Wide Receiver

Key Losses: Ricky Jones, Mitchell Paige

Key Returnees: Simmie Cobbs, Nick Westbrook, J-Shun Harris

FUN FACT! Of the Big Ten’s top 9 pass-catchers in 2016, exactly one will return to college football next season: Nick Westbrook. Of the Big Ten’s top 10 pass catchers in 2015, exactly one will return to college football next season: Simmie Cobbs.

Indiana might be poised to have the Big Ten’s best receiving corps in 2017. Seriously.

If Indiana’s problem was a lack of pass catcher size this season, it won’t be an issue going forward. After injuring his ankle on the first play of the 2016 season, Simmie Cobbs will return to his post as Indiana’s top target in 2017. He’ll likely line-up opposite Nick Westbrook — the Big Ten’s second-leading receiver in 2016. Indiana’s outside threats should be a major problem for other Big Ten teams next season.

Simmie Cobbs wasn’t the only Indiana wide-receiver to miss 2016 with injury, either.

It’s hard to replace the stability Ricky Jones & Mitchell Paige provided Indiana over the last two seasons. The two combined for exactly 40% of Indiana’s receptions in 2015 and 2016 combined — 222 total. But those two first originally got an opportunity when the dynamic J-Shun Harris went down with an ACL injury in Spring 2015. After missing the entire 2015 season, Harris tore his other ACL during spring ball in 2016. If he’s finally ready to play and healthy, he could be a dynamic add for Indiana in the slot next season.

Indiana’s got some depth at receiver next year, too. Donovan Hale is another big, athletic target that showed flashes toward the end of last year and will assuredly get reps. Luke Timian was good for a catch or two a game in 2016 and could be another to start in the slot next season. Keep an eye on Taysir Mack, who impressed Indiana’s coaching staff as a freshman in 2016, too.

Danny Friend will be back as Indiana’s starting tight end.

What’s that all mean at the skill positions?

JESUS CHRIST INDIANA’S GOING TO BE AN ODDLY, EXTREMELY TALL OFFENSE. And probably pretty good, too! Consider this possible lineup:

QB: Richard Lagow, 6-6

RB: Camion Patrick, 6-2

WR: Simmie Cobbs, 6-4

WR: Nick Westbrook, 6-3

WR: Donovan Hale 6-4

TE: Danny Friend 6-5

That’s a decent low-major basketball team lineup. Grant Heard & Mike DeBord shouldn’t be short on size in 2017.