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Indiana’s receiving corps should be strong again in 2017

This week we continue our preview of the upcoming IU football season with a look at the receivers on the roster

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This week at CQ, we continue our summer preview series by taking a look at Indiana’s receiving corps. Indiana’s receivers should be one of the strongest units on the offensive side of the ball, bringing back a solid amount of production from the 2016 season.

Incoming Indiana receivers coach Grant Heard will have a lot of talent to work with in his first season in Bloomington, as the Hoosiers return a lot of production from the 2016 campaign, as well as welcome the return of Simme Cobbs, who was Indiana’s star receiver in 2015. Heard replaces Kevin Johns as the WR position coach, and joins the Hoosier staff after spending 5 years at Ole Miss with the same position. It was with the Rebels that Heard met Indiana head coach Tom Allen, as Heard worked with Allen in Oxford.

The Hoosiers do lose a pair of receivers going into the 2017 campaign, as Mitchell Paige and Rickey Jones have each graduated. Paige racked in 58 receptions a season ago, which was the most of any Hoosier. Those 58 catches lead to 646 yards, 3rd on team, with 4 touchdowns. Jones’ 848 yards were the 2nd most on the 2016 Hoosiers, racking up those yards on 53 catches. Jones also had 3 touchdowns on the season.

While losing Paige and Jones will hurt the Hoosiers, they will get a huge boost with the return of Simme Cobbs. As a sophomore in 2015, Cobbs was Indiana’s star receiver and was named Honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches and media) with 60 catches for 1035 yards (17.3 yards per catch) and 4 touchdowns. Cobbs was expected to have an even bigger junior season in 2016; however, Cobbs’ season was cut to just one play, as he hurt his ankle blocking for Paige on a bubble screen. The injury required surgery, and Cobbs missed the rest of the season.

While losing Cobbs to injury was a huge loss, it did allow Nick Westbrook to have a breakout season as his replacement. Westbrook was Indiana’s leading receiver with 995 yards (18.4 yards per reception) on 54 catches and 6 touchdowns. The development of Westbrook and Cobbs’ return will give the Hoosiers a pair of legitimate home run threats that will be able to stretch the field in a way few other teams in the Big Ten, and around the country, will be able to do.

The losses of Paige and Jones won’t have too much of an effect on Indiana’s ability to throw the long ball, but where the Hoosiers might miss them more is in the short and intermediate passing game. Jones and Paige were known as good route runners with good to great hands, and were really productive out of the slot.

In order to fill in the hole, Indiana will have to depend on the emergence of Luke Timian and Donavon Hale, among others, as well as tight end Danny Friend and running back Camion Patrick. Patrick may be the most interesting because, if he can stay healthy (which is a big if), he could be a huge part of the Hoosier attack on the ground and in the air.

In addition, this could be a role for one of their incoming freshman receivers. The Hoosiers bring in a pair of 3 star receivers in Tyrese Fryfogle and Whop Philyor. While Philyor is viewed as a guy with great speed with big play ability, Fryfogle is said to have good ball skills with strong hands.

If Indiana fills its hole at slot receiver to play the role that Paige and Jones did last season, as well as get more consistent quarterback play, then the talented Hoosier receiving core could play a huge role into bringing a return to the high flying Hoosier offense that Indiana fans were used to seeing under former coach Kevin Wilson.