The addition of offensive coordinator Seth Littrell to the staff, shows that Indiana plans to throw the ball much more this season. That forces role changes for a lot of players, but there may be no position more affected than the Hoosiers’ running backs.
Of the Hoosiers’ 211 completions last season, just 28 went to running backs with Stephen Houston catching 17 passes, D’Angelo Roberts grabbing seven and Matt Perez catching four. Indiana expects much more production through the air next year, however, and also expects those passes to be caught further downfield.
“Last year we really weren’t involved,” Houston said. “We were involved a decent amount, but he has us running more routes to put the ball in our hands to give us space.”
A lot of last year’s routes for running backs came either off releases from pass protection or though swing routes or short routes into the flat with running backs serving either as safety valves or for quick hit routes. This year, the running backs expect to run deeper routes, not only out of the backfield, but off the line off scrimmage.
“It will give us an opportunity to be more dynamic,” running backs coach Deland McCullough said. “It’s not just guys running swings or sit routes. In certain sets, you’ll see a back lining up as a receiver, and he’ll just run a flat-out receiver route. That’s something we’ll continue to work on, just to continue utlizing our strengths.”
McCullough said he expects Roberts and Morehead State transfer Isaiah Roundtree to be especially effective at running more downfield routes and coming off the line of scrimmage. He said he also expects dynamic incoming freshman Tevin Coleman, who comes to camp in August, to be useful in such a scenario. He said he still expects Houston to keep his routes at the intermediate level.
McCullough said the Hoosiers running backs are coming a long in their understanding of the passing game, but it’s still a work in progress with spring practice drawing to a close.
“We’re just continuing to refine our route-running and understanding different coverages and things like that,” McCullough said. “The biggest thing is remembering the plays because it’s so much different. Remembering, ‘OK, shoot, I’m actually a receiver on this.’ And then the routes. Those guys are pretty good, it’s just working on some technical issues. … It’s just seeing where they fit in the whole situation and understanding where the soft spots are and the windows are.”
It might take some time for that part of the offense to take shape, but once it does, the IU backs expect it to make them much more dangerous.
“It just spreads the field more,” Roberts said. “They have to respect our presence as receivers.”