- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The red zone was pretty much a dead zone for Indiana's offense in 2009.
The Hoosiers had little trouble moving the ball inside an opponent's 20-yard line, but once there, drives typically stalled. Indiana finished 10th in the Big Ten in both red-zone scoring percentage (77.3, 34 of 44 chances) and touchdowns scored in the red zone (22).
Not surprisingly, Indiana made red-zone offense one of its top offseason priorities as it tries to overcome the near misses that surfaced throughout Big Ten play in 2009.
The solution seems pretty obvious: Damarlo Belcher.
At 6-foot-5, Belcher has the size and ability to take Indiana out of the red in the red zone.
Belcher had a good start to his junior season, recording a game-high seven receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown in Thursday's rout of Towson. Although the scoring pass stretched 41 yards, Belcher set up another Hoosiers touchdown with a 19-yard reception down to the Towson 2-yard line.
"You hope he's a big factor [in the red zone]," Indiana head coach Bill Lynch said. "He does have the ability to go up over the top of people. The other thing is, when the field gets constricted down there, whether it's slant routes as well as fades, something where he can shield a guy with his body.
"We work on that a lot, and he's getting better at it."
Belcher, who ranked fifth in the Big Ten in receptions (61) last season but had only five touchdown catches, has confidence he can be a difference-maker near the goal line.
"We’ve got to make more plays in the red zone," he said. "I love the jump ball. I can play a little basketball."
Belcher was an all-area basketball player in Fort Wayne, Ind., and he takes every chance he gets to hoop it up with his teammates at Indiana. All the wide receivers play, and they had pickup games throughout the summer.
Although Belcher is the tallest member of the corps, Indiana has three 6-foot-3 receivers in Tandon Doss, Terrance Turner and Duwyce Wilson.
"We ball a lot in the offseason," Belcher said. "Tandon, he's a smooth player. Same with T-squared [Turner]."
But Belcher puts them to shame, at least according to him.
"I dunked on Terrance before," he said, "I dunked on Duwyce Wilson. I do a lot of tricks. We all play exactly the same, but I'm better than all of them."
Mitchell Evans begs to differ.
"That is a false statement," said Evans, a former wide receiver now at safety. "I know some other guys can shut him down. I’m pretty confident I could shut him down, to be honest. I don't know how he could say that.
"He doesn’t have good enough ball-handling to get to the hole."
The debate continues about Belcher's basketball skills, but when it comes to football, he can make Indiana's red-zone woes disappear.
"We worked on our red zone plays this summer, we did it every day after our conditioning," Belcher said. "We're going to be way better this year, mark my words."
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