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Elliott taking next step this spring

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Hoosiers’ hoping former JUCO transfer can become a versatile presence along the interior of their defensive line in 2021

NCAA Football: Indiana at Rutgers
Indiana Hoosiers defensive lineman Demarcus Elliott (94) celebrates a defensive stop against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half at SHI Stadium on Oct. 31, 2020.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When Demarcus Elliott committed to Indiana as a junior college transfer in 2019, IU’s spring practice period had already been over for a couple of weeks. Then, last year, Indiana got through only a few spring workouts before the world shut down. So it took a couple years before the 21-year-old Kansan could participate in a full offseason training regimen inside a Big Ten football program.

But by all accounts, he made the most of his long-awaited spring experience over the past couple months.

When IU wrapped spring ball on April 10, Elliott was recognized alongside safety Raheem Layne as the Hoosiers’ most improved defensive player. Over the past two months, IU coach Tom Allen has seen in Elliott a player poised to help fill a void created by the departures of interior linemen Jerome Johnson and Jovan Swann. And with Elliott, it’s not just the gains he’s made in the weight room that have his coaches excited. It’s the way he’s applied his training to become a better, more versatile player on the field.

“We are proud of the way he has progressed,” Allen said.

Elliott provided a solid presence along the interior of IU’s line last year, logging 243 snaps, per Pro Football Focus’ statistical database. He started six of the seven games in which he appeared, spending the bulk of his time working at the nose spot.

But Elliott was like a lot of his fellow linemen last fall in that he was ... sort of just wingin’ it. The pandemic erased any opportunity for a traditional offseason weight program with new strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman, and both the lack of spring ball and the start-and-stop nature of on-field workouts and practices made for a challenging transition to the regular season.

“He really didn’t have a good chance to have the full preparation last year, which I thought hurt him,” Allen said. “It hurt a lot of our linemen because of the nature of that position and what you need in the weight room, what you need technique-wise during the spring a year ago and all that he missed in the fall camp piece as well with it being chopped up. I felt that he has always been a guy, since he has been here, that plays hard for us.”

Now, Allen believes, Elliott is equipping himself to play not only hard, but better.

Elliott says he feels a stark difference in the results from his training this year versus any other offseason he’s experienced in college. Simply going through a full workout routine with Wellman has allowed Elliott to trim fat, add muscle definition and boost his stamina.

“You can notice it,” Elliott said. “A night and day difference, I would say. Going to work out by myself (like last spring) isn’t really that team atmosphere where you get pushed every day, especially by Coach Wellman. You can honestly see it on film. It’s a night and day difference, just being able to shed blockers and hold my ground more. Our coach talks about getting plays in the backfield instead of just playing our gaps.”

Not only have things been going well in the weight room for Elliott, his work on the field has earned him praise from Indiana’s staff. The Hoosiers are hoping to make the 6-foot-3, 307-pound junior a little more well-rounded. In addition to continuing to develop at the nose spot, Elliott is also seeing time at three-technique, too — a move necessitated by the holes created by Johnson and Swann pursuing professional careers.

Defensive line is a priority recruiting area right now for the Hoosiers, who may still look to add a transfer capable of competing at three-technique before the start of next season. So far, though, Allen and company are encouraged by Elliott’s ability to handle added responsibilities.

“We want him to be more versatile and play that three-technique spot and to be able to play in the nose or the three,” Allen said. “That is not something we have had him do in the past. It is not the same position. There are different things involved in it. There are different techniques involved and the block reactions are different. I felt like he got some very valuable reps there that showed a lot. It gives us more versatility within our defense and personnel as well.”

And for Elliott, the wait for a full offseason of instruction is finally paying off.

“He has always been a guy, since he has been here, that plays hard for us,” Allen said. “I definitely love his effort and his care factor. It is really high. He is such a good person off the field and doing everything he’s asked of.”