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5 takeaways from Indiana’s fall camp

The regular season is now on the horizon, so let’s reflect on the things we’ve heard and learned this month at IU’s fall camp

NCAA Football: Indiana at Penn State
Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen walks on the field before a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium.
Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana conducted its second full-contact scrimmage of the month on Saturday, bringing its 2021 fall camp to a close. With the regular season on the horizon, and the opening kickoff at Iowa only 11 days away, we thought we’d reflect on some of the things we think we learned from the Hoosiers’ two-and-a-half-week-long camp. Although we haven’t had boots-on-the-ground access to IU’s training this summer, we feel like we’ve been able to glean some important updates from Indiana’s media availabilities.

With that, here are five takeaways from IU’s preseason:

It looks like Stephen Carr will be RB1

Although IU coach Tom Allen has yet to officially name a starter, you can read between the lines here. After both of Indiana’s intrasquad exhibitions this month, Allen showered praise on the Southern California transfer for his work in live action. Allen’s words signal that IU has been encouraged by what Carr has brought to the backfield, making him the top candidate for bulk carries entering the season.

“He continues to pop for me,” Allen said after Saturday’s scrimmage.

Of course, IU has options at the position, which is what made the competition for carries the top battle in camp this month. Tim Baldwin and David Ellis are in the mix, and at least one freshman may have asserted himself as a depth option, as well.

Speaking of which ...

Allen really, really likes the new guys

Even with a veteran team, the Indiana coach saved some of his highest praise this month for his newcomers. During a team meeting on Sunday, Allen spotlighted six freshmen for their consistency in workouts, practices and the two scrimmages. They were:

  • LB Maurice Freeman
  • LB Matt Hohlt
  • S Jordan Grier
  • QB Donaven McCulley
  • WR Malachi Holt-Bennett
  • RB David Holloman

“We always challenge our players that if you want to have an opportunity to play, you get your coach’s attention and make plays when it is live,” Allen said. “Live football to me is live tackling, live blocking — everything is live, and you are just going to play to the whistle and that is when you really see who is out there making plays. Those six guys stuck out to me throughout the course of fall camp. Other guys flashed at times, but those guys were most consistent.”

One of the most encouraging things about that group of six is that they each play a position where IU will likely need some help next year. Getting a head start on identifying talent and building depth is obviously a big boost.

The offense and defense split the scrimmages

It felt especially meaningful to learn that IU’s coaching staff gave the edge in Game 1 to the offense. We know Indiana’s defensive identity, just as we know how that group is buoyed by several experienced, standout Big Ten playmakers. The fact that the offense was able to get the best of them in the first exhibition felt like it said a lot about offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan’s group and its ability to quickly get in synch.

For Allen, it was similarly meaningful to see the defense answer with a strong effort in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“Defense won the day, which was (the reverse of) the first scrimmage where the offense won that one,” Allen said. “That is what you want, both sides of the football showing the ability to respond and play at a high level. Obviously, when you are going against yourself, one side has to have the upper hand and one side has to not on every given play. (Overall), I was really encouraged by the performance of our defense.”

Tight ends have earned consistent acclaim

Just as we’ve noted how important it will be for IU’s offensive line to get off to a strong, convincing start this fall, the play of Indiana’s tight ends in the blocking and receiving realms will also be a key to the Hoosiers’ offensive progression in 2021.

Last season, the group seemed to offer a mixed bag of results — Matt Bjorson was a strong blocker, while Peyton Hendershot had way too many drops. So far, though, all reports indicate that position coach Kevin Wright’s group could be one to watch. Repeatedly this month, Allen has gone out of his way to laud the team’s players there.

“I like our tight ends room,” Allen said.

Everything appears to be on track for Michael Penix’s return

All offseason, Allen was asked about his starting quarterback’s return from a season-ending ACL tear. The coach provided encouraging updates on each occasion, saying the expectation was for Penix to be ready to go for the Sept. 4 opener in Iowa City.

Now, with that season kickoff contest merely a week and a half away, things do, indeed, appear to be trending in the right direction.

“As far as the knee, I feel ready to play,” Penix said. “I’m feeling real good. I know when Sept. 4 comes, I’ll be ready, 100%, with no concerns.”