Every season, it seems a few players come out of nowhere to play a key role in a team’s season. Although Indiana returns lots of experience this year, there are still a few spots for lesser known players to make their mark. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some players who could step into the spotlight for IU this season.
Whop Philyor, WR: Even though he’ll still be the third receiver behind Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale, expect Philyor to have a breakout season in the slot receiver role. Despite only appearing in seven games due to injury last season, Philyor showed he could be a reliable target, as well as showcasing his playmaking ability. One only needs to look at his 13-catch, 148-yard performance against Michigan State to see what Philyor’s ceiling could be this year.
After a solid freshman campaign that saw Philyor set freshman records for catches (33) and touchdowns (3), many people thought he would be a key contributor for the Hoosiers last season. However, a high ankle sprain, along with other minor injuries, kept Philyor on the sideline for a good chunk of last season. If healthy, Philyor’s good hands and high-end speed will make him a threat from the slot this season.
Caleb Jones, OL: Jones, a redshirt sophomore, will take over from Brandon Knight at right tackle this fall. The first thing you’ll notice about Jones is that he’s absolutely enormous, measuring at 6’8 and 358 pounds. He’ll join a pretty experienced group on the offensive line, with three starters returning from last season.
After blocking for yet another 1000 yard rusher last season, the offensive line could be better than it was last season. Knight and Wes Martin will be missed, but Jones got lots of experience last year and is one of the more talented offensive line prospects in recent memory. IU has developed some good offensive linemen over the last few season, and Jones could be the next in line.
Juwan Burgess, S: Burgess has been tasked with replacing Jonathan Crawford at safety this year. While that’s no easy task, Burgess’s excellent freshman season would suggest that he’s more than ready for an increased role this year. Burgess appeared in all 12 games last season and tallied 25 tackles with two coming for losses, along with one fumble recovery and one pass broken up.
Burgess, who was the highest rated recruit in IU’s 2017 class according to 247Sports, will partner with Khalil Bryant at the back end of the Hoosier defense. While IU fans shouldn’t expect Burgess to replicate Crawford’s production right away, he’s still one of the most talented players on IU’s defense. With experience all around him in the secondary, expect Burgess to thrive in his starting role
James Head Jr., DL: IU will be replacing a lot of talent along the defensive front, and one of the players who will receive a bigger role is James Head Jr. Head, IU’s fourth-best recruit in the class of 2018, played in 11 games in his freshman campaign and finished with 17 tackles, three for loss and three QB hurries. Additionally, he wears number six. No defensive linemen with single-digit numbers are allowed to be bad, it’s in the rules.
Although Head is projected to come off the bench behind Allen Stallings and Gavin Everett, he should be the first defensive end off the bench, and could wind up in a starting role by midseason. Stallings, Everett and Head all posted similar numbers last season, and Head saw the least amount of field time out of those three. Expect Head to be a key contributor on a defensive line that needs all the quality depth it can get.