Besides his own office, there are two meeting rooms inside Indiana’s North End Zone facility where Tom Allen spends most of his time each spring. One is the linebackers nook, which is where the IU head coach works closely with the players he considers to be the most important to his defense. The other is the quarterbacks room, the home of some of the Hoosiers’ most important players, period.
It was in the latter space where Allen sat side-by-side over the past two months for meetings with Jack Tuttle, IU’s QB1 since late November. A hands-on spring with Tuttle taught Allen a few things about the redshirt sophomore and his development since the end of last season, particularly how the former four-star recruit now seems to have a more confident grasp on the offense.
The starting job this fall will belong to Michael Penix Jr., whom Allen expects to be ready to return from an ACL injury in time to take the field for the Sept. 4 season opener at Iowa. But Tuttle’s spring also fed one reassuring belief for Allen and the rest of his offensive staff: Should Indiana need to dip into its depth chart for quarterback help yet again this fall, the Hoosiers have a very good backup plan in Tuttle.
“I feel like Jack really grew,” Allen said. “... Sitting in those meetings, the knowledge of our system for Jack, continuing to recognize pressures by defenses — those are the things that you’re looking for.”
And those are the things that Allen saw both during meetings and in practices as Tuttle filled the first team reps while Penix rehabbed his knee this spring.
Tuttle demonstrated last fall that he was capable of functioning as a solid second option at the position when he took over the starting duties against Wisconsin and Ole Miss. Across those two games, Tuttle completed 39 of his 67 throws for 331 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Another would-be touchdown pass was dropped late in the game at Camp Randall Stadium.
But this spring, Tuttle reportedly made the most of his extra time running the show with the first team offense. In doing so, the Hoosiers quarterback demonstrated growth in a couple key areas.
“Getting protections right, getting the run calls right,” Allen said. “Those are probably the two most critical ones. ... I saw growth in that.”
So, too, did Allen see better ball security from Tuttle. Although Tuttle mostly seemed to do a good job in that area during his limited action last season, it was a point of emphasis for him this spring.
And Allen believes Tuttle grew there, too.
“Before he even played last year, it was an area I felt that I felt he had to really do a good job of, when he was pressured, not making a bad decision,” Allen said. “I’ve seen him grow in that. The two-minute situations, being able to make good decisions when those moments are there and simulating those is really, really big. So I just feel like he’s really grown in those areas. That’s important because that’s what playing quarterback is all about — getting the ball to the open receiver, getting the offensive line set with the right protections and pressures, and trying to read and anticipate.”
Whether due to injury or ineffectiveness, Indiana has used multiple quarterbacks in each of Allen’s first four seasons as head coach, making it difficult to anticipate exactly how the quarterback position will evolve over the course of the 2021 season.
But Allen likes his top two options in Penix and Tuttle. With the latter, Allen also appreciates how Tuttle has accepted his role, while also working as if the starting job were his own.
“He does know that Michael is the starter,” Allen said. “But he’s just been unbelievable in his preparation and continues to be. He was all last season. He was ready when called upon. ... We’re going to need everybody. You never know what’s going to happen and he’s learned that, and he knows that. But I think there’s peace in his heart about where he is and what he’s doing, and he just wants to do whatever he can to help this team be successful on gamedays. It’s pretty special.”