Big Ten: Greg Frey
Indiana's offensive linemen are no exception. They don't seek out the spotlight. But it's time to recognize what they've been doing the past few years, because few seem to notice.
You might disagree, but I doubt you've actually paid attention to Indiana's line. Maybe because it's Indiana. Maybe it's because the Hoosiers run an up-tempo spread offense rather than a traditional, road-grading one that typically shines a brighter light on the five men up front. Whatever the reason, the Hoosiers line rarely gets much love.
But it's a huge reason why Indiana has had the Big Ten's No. 2 offense in each of the past two seasons. Despite two true freshman starters in 2012, Indiana led the Big Ten in fewest sacks allowed: one for every 31.8 pass attempts. Last season, the line overcame several major injuries -- IU started nine linemen and used seven different lineups -- and prevented sacks in six games. The offense averaged more than 300 pass yards and more than 200 rush yards for the first time in team history.
"When I came in with Coach [Kevin] Wilson, both of us having an offensive line background, we wanted to build a unit that has great flexibility, the ability to run the ball," Hoosiers offensive line coach Greg Frey told ESPN.com "Our goal, as it is with any offensive line, is to control the game. We’re going to pick up that third-and-1. If you need more time to throw, we're going to give you more time."
Strong offensive lines are normally stocked with veterans, but Indiana has excelled with youth. Five Hoosiers linemen have earned freshman All-Big Ten honors since 2011, including two in each of the past two seasons. Tackle Jason Spriggs and guard Dan Feeney both earned freshman All-America honors in 2012, when they set team freshman records by starting all 12 games.
Indiana lost Feeney to a foot injury days before the 2013 season and lost two other starters, Peyton Eckert and David Kaminski, to season-ending injuries in October. But others stepped up, players such as Collin Rahrig, a former walk-on who started 10 games at center, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Ralston Evans, who suffered a major knee injury before the 2011 season and appeared in only one game in 2012, started all 12 games at right tackle last season.
"When we were at Michigan, coaches came up and said, 'Who the hell is this right tackle you’ve got?'" Frey said. "I said, 'Don't tell me. Tell him he did a good job.' These guys work hard. There’s a good culture there."
Indiana returns 130 career offensive line starts, most in the Big Ten and third most in the FBS behind Appalachian State and UTSA. Frey, who previously coached lines at Michigan, West Virginia and South Florida, thinks this could be his deepest group.
It's a close group, too, one that spends a lot of time together off of the field. If a Bloomington restaurant offers a food special, the Hoosiers' linemen are quick to find it.
Frey doesn't change his expectations for the line in 2014. They've always been high.
"The ability to be a leader or a presence on the team, that part of it changes," he said. "There’s some credentials there, a little bit of background, some personal expectations.
"We have more voices there who are respected."
But will the group gain respect? It will take more than yards and points.
"They realize the more you’re winning in college football, the more people know about you," Frey said. "Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things, but you'd like to see the fruits of their labor be recognized. Everybody likes to be recognized a little bit.
"Hopefully as we go on, that will naturally happen."
Indiana's offensive line tops my list of the Big Ten's most underrated position groups. Here are four others ...
Minnesota's secondary: Jay Sawvel does an excellent job with Minnesota's back four. Fourth-round draft pick Brock Vereen will be tough to replace, but safety Cedric Thompson had a good spring and Eric Murray could become an elite cornerback this season. Derrick Wells adds a playmaking presence at corner and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who opened last season as a starting cornerback, returns from injury.
Penn State's running backs: Quarterback Christian Hackenberg grabs the headlines and justifiably so, but he'll need help in the backfield from a talented group of ball-carriers. How many people know Zach Zwinak has nearly 2,000 career rush yards? Bill Belton had an excellent spring and could be the offense's top playmaker, and junior Akeel Lynch has a nice speed-power mix.
Northwestern's receivers/tight ends: I've stumped for this group and while it hasn't quite blossomed, a two-quarterback system and a shift from a pass-heavy attack didn't help. Northwestern should be much more pass-heavy with Trevor Siemian as its sole signal caller. Christian Jones and Tony Jones are proven veterans, Rutgers transfer Myles Shuler fills a void in the slot and Kyle Prater is finally healthy. Tight end Dan Vitale is poised for a breakout season.
Maryland's linebackers: The Terps return three of four starters who combined for 233 tackles last season. Cole Farrand is a strong leader, and Matt Robinson provides a spark on the outside. Maryland will miss the disruptive Marcus Whitfield but returns five of its top six linebackers from 2013. If the group stays healthy -- a big if given Maryland's recent misfortune -- it could be very good.
Here's a snapshot of what to expect in Bloomington:
The big story: A new era dawns as coach Kevin Wilson and his staff put the Hoosiers through their first practice sessions. Wilson wants to change the culture in Bloomington and has talked about getting Indiana players to believe they're better than what they think they are (and what they're told from the outside). Hoosiers players went through a ramped-up winter conditioning program, which showed some positive results. Now it's all about football as they adjust to new schemes on both sides of the ball.
Position in the spotlight: Quarterback. Three-year starter Ben Chappell departs, and Indiana's other quarterbacks lack substantial game experience. Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are the leading candidates to succeed Chappell, but the competition is wide open and could spill over into preseason camp, when heralded recruit Tre Roberson arrives. Wilson has been terrific at developing quarterbacks throughout his career, and co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rod Smith oversaw Denard Robinson's rapid rise last season at Michigan. But this will be a huge spring for the men calling signals.
Coaching changes: Indiana made a change at the top, and Wilson brings in an entirely new staff. Smith and Kevin Johns share offensive coordinator duties, and Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory will oversee the defense. Among the new assistants is defensive tackles coach/special teams coordinator Mark Hagen, who returns to his alma mater after spending the past 11 seasons at rival Purdue. Smith and offensive line coach Greg Frey both join the staff from Michigan.
Keep an eye on: Adam Replogle. He started games at both defensive line positions but made eight starts at tackle in a system that often went with three down linemen. Ekeler and Mallory will operate in a 4-3 season, so it'll be interesting to see how Replogle adjusts. Replogle recorded 32 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and three quarterback hurries last season.
Spring game: April 16
Final spring practice: April 19
Although college football assistants change jobs every year in every league, the Big Ten has had an unusually high number of coaches make moves within the conference. Some changes were voluntary, some were out of necessity, and two coaches spent just days at one Big Ten school (Indiana) before jumping elsewhere within the league. New Big Ten member Nebraska played a role in several of these moves.
Here's the rundown:
- Purdue linebackers coach Mark Hagen left to become defensive tackles coach/special teams coordinator at Indiana.
- Northwestern receivers coach Kevin Johns left to become Indiana's receivers coach/pass game coordinator. He later was elevated to Hoosiers' co-offensive coordinator.
- Former Michigan assistants Rod Smith and Greg Frey, out of work following Rich Rodriguez's firing, joined Kevin Wilson's staff at Indiana. Smith will serve as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, while Frey will coach the offensive line.
- Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler left to become co-defensive coordinator at Indiana.
- Former Indiana assistant head coach/running backs coach Dennis Springer, out of work following Bill Lynch's firing, was hired by Northwestern as Johns' replacement (wide receivers coach).
- Jerry Montgomery and Corey Raymond both took jobs on Wilson's staff at Indiana but soon left for positions elsewhere in the league. Montgomery will coach defensive line at Michigan, while Raymond is expected to be announced as secondary coach at Nebraska. Indiana also brought in a Nebraska defensive staffer, Brett Diersen, to help replace Montgomery and coach the defensive ends.
All in all, nine assistant have spent time at multiple Big Ten programs in recent months.
And we might not be done yet. There are several remaining Big Ten assistant coach vacancies -- Wisconsin's running backs coach, Illinois' linebackers coach, two potential openings at Nebraska -- that could be filled from within the league.
What does this mean? Perhaps not much, but the familiarity factor isn't something to overlook when some of these coaches reunite with their former teams on fall Saturdays. Johns knows Northwestern and vice versa. Same goes for Hagen and Purdue, Ekeler and Nebraska and, to a lesser degree because of head-coaching changes, Springer at Indiana and Smith/Frey at Michigan.
Indiana hosts both Northwestern (Oct. 29) and Purdue (Nov. 26) this season, but doesn't play Nebraska or Michigan.
Wilson on Thursday announced the additions of three more assistants, including two from the staff of recently fired Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Rod Smith and Greg Frey, who worked under Rodriguez at Michigan, come to Indiana along with Jerry Montgomery.
Smith, who helped mold Denard Robinson into the 2010 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, will serve as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He'll share coordinator duties with receivers coach Kevin Johns.
Frey will coach Indiana's offensive line after doing a good job with Michigan's front this season.
“I’ve had previous relationships with Rod Smith and Greg Frey having built some of our past offenses with coach [Rich] Rodriguez and having continued to visit and study with those guys," Wilson said in a statement. "It is going to be a natural transition for both of them. They are well-versed in the no-huddle style and know how to coach it."
Montgomery, a former defensive tackle at Iowa who spent the past two seasons coaching at Wyoming, will work with Indiana's defensive tackles. Mark Hagen will work with the defensive ends and serve as special teams coordinator.
So here is Wilson's updated staff:
Doug Mallory: Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties
Mike Ekeler: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
Mark Hagen: Defensive Ends/Special Teams Coordinator
Jerry Montgomery: Defensive Tackles
Corey Raymond: Cornerbacks
Kevin Johns: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers
Rod Smith: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Greg Frey: Offensive Line
Wilson's ninth and final assistant -- still to be hired -- will coach running backs and serve as recruiting coordinator.
It'll be interesting to see how Smith's hiring impacts where Indiana goes with its next quarterback. Edward Wright-Baker seems a little closer to the Denard Robinson mold, but Wilson's offenses at Oklahoma also featured more traditional quarterbacks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Most head coaches are only as strong as the men surrounding them, and the 2009 season looms large for several prominent Big Ten assistants.
Keep in mind not all the coaches on this list are in danger of being fired if things don't work out. But all five (actually, six) need to show immediate signs of progress, either because of past results or personnel situations.
Ohio State offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman -- Bollman is a popular target for fan frustration regarding the Buckeyes' offense, though the criticism could be misguided. After all, head coach Jim Tressel calls the plays. What can't be disputed is the fact that Bollman's veteran-laden line underachieved throughout last season, and his coaching will be put to the test this year. Ohio State could be starting three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) up front, so it's key for Bollman to build chemistry within the group.
Indiana defensive coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic -- Despite producing an All-Big Ten pass rusher (Jammie Kirlew) for the second straight season, Indiana ranked last in the league in both total defense and scoring defense. George and Palcic return key contributors at end, linebacker and safety, but they must overcome Indiana's perennial struggles on defense. Head coach Bill Lynch surprised some by retaining his assistants after a 3-9 season, but they'll likely all be gone if the defense doesn't improve this fall.
Michigan offensive line coach Greg Frey -- Frey gets a pass for last year after having only one experienced lineman (Stephen Schilling) and a new system to install. But all five starters are back, and more importantly, six redshirt freshmen enter the mix, giving Michigan the competition head coach Rich Rodriguez said it lacked last season. Offensive line and running back are arguably the two most promising positions on the team, and there's no reason why Michigan shouldn't produce a serviceable rushing attack this fall.
Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall -- Mike Hankwitz did wonders with the Wildcats' defense last fall, but the jury remains out on McCall, whose unit seemed to regress in his first season despite having seniors at all the skill positions. He worked with an extremely young line last fall and likely had to adjust his play-calling accordingly, but there will be no excuses with four starting linemen back this fall. McCall must develop Mike Kafka into a complete quarterback and get better results from his concepts-based offense.
Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Schultz -- Schultz is entering his first season in Champaign, so job security shouldn't be a problem. But he also inherits an offense filled with game-changing players, several of whom won't be back in 2009. Schultz has the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback (Juice Williams) at his disposal, along with quite possibly the league's best wide receiver (Arrelious Benn). Illinois needs to maximize these players while it has them, so Schultz can't afford a rocky transition this fall.