NCF Nation: Ryan Marando
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Indiana head coach Bill Lynch breaks down the team's personnel in the second half of my interview with him (for Part I, click here).
Does Kellen [Lewis] still have the respect of his teammates? I'm sure some were disappointed after his suspension.
Bill Lynch: Yeah, I'm sure. But ever since he's been back, he's certainly earned it. And the players wanted him back. That was a part of the whole thing while he was gone, and I had told him that, 'I'm going to check with a lot of people and one of them is your teammates.' And they wanted him back. And he's done everything we've asked and he's practiced well, he's practiced hard, he hasn't missed a rep. So I'm not worried about that.
Did you feel like you were losing him at any point?
BL: The best word to use is I was hopeful through the whole thing.
As far as the defense, you had some great individual performers last year, but does the unit need to take another step?
BL: I think so. We're in the same defensive scheme for the fourth year, and that's really important. The position coaches are the same. And this is a game of repetitions, it really is. The more you do it, the better you get and the consistency is so important. We've been able to develop that. But we've also developed depth and overall team speed on defense. Our linebacker play is the starting point. We really feel like we're two-deep with guys who fit the mold physically in terms of size and strength and speed, but experience now, as well. We have much more depth at d-line. We've got a name guy in [Greg] Middleton, but [Jammie] Kirlew and [Ryan] Marando and Greg Brown and Deonte Mack and the Burrus brothers [Keith and Kevin], we've got some depth. We've got solid safeties in Austin Thomas and Nick Polk. Chris Phillips is a very solid player. He played some good football for us. And then the other kids are coming along at the other corner. We haven't made a decision on that yet.
As far as the quarterback decision, do you have a timetable?
BL: I'm going to sit down with [offensive coordinator] Matt Canada, our quarterback coach and coordinator, because we haven't done that. At some point, you make that decision based on not only what's best for the two kids involved, but also what's best for the football team. We're getting to the point where we need to sit down and have that conversation. We've really been through the grind of camp. Starting out, we talked about we would get through the camp and there was going to be 1 and 1A, but we really have rotated them a lot. The reps have been almost even.
Is playing both of them in the discussion?
BL: We haven't talked about that. I'm not, at this point, thinking that's what we're going to do. They're both capable. We can win with both of them.
Offensive line, any concerns there with depth?
BL: We've kind of missed our left guard and left tackle [Pete Saxon and Rodger Saffold] since before last weekend, but both of them, we feel like by game week, will be out there going. We're being smart this week. Those are our two most experienced guys, but what it's done is some young kids have gotten a ton of reps. So as a result of some injuries, we've been able to develop some depth. But [the offensive line] doesn't have the same depth as the d-line has.
Who have stood out among the freshmen?
BL: We've got a couple wideouts. [Damarlo Belcher] had a really good day today and he's been coming on. I still think Darius Willis, our running back, has got a chance. We haven't decided what we're going to do there, either, because we've got some older guys ahead of him. But he's everything we thought he was going to be, and he's going to be a complete back. It would probably take some injuries at the other places for somebody else to play.
Willis is a bigger guy. Is that a novelty a bit in this offense?
BL: Not necessarily. It's nice to have, but [Marcus] Thigpen has something to offer because of his speed and experience and ability to play to play wide receiver when we go into different formations. [Bryan] Payton's a tough, hard-nosed guy that has played. [Trea] Burgess is a solid guy who has gained yards as a special teams guy. And [Demetrius McCray's] a little bit of a guy that we're anxious to see keep going because he's missed a lot of time with injuries, and he's been able to stay healthy through the whole camp. And then you've got Darius. It's really a matter of giving everybody work before we kind of decide which way we're going to go.
You mentioned gaining national respect is a goal. Do you think you've gained some respect in the Big Ten?
BL: A little bit. If you look at the preseason picks, we haven't gained a whole lot. But it takes time. We're gonna earn it. That's our job to do that, not worry about it at this point. You've got to do it more than one year. I firmly believe that. We took a step last year and it was a start. We've got a lot more to do.