Bloomington, Ind. – What would the start of fall camp be without some concerns about the kicking game?
Every year, every college team enters fall camp with questions to be answered about its football program. One year it might be about replacing a quarterback, the next about finding a second cornerback. But in Bloomington, concern over the kicking game has been a reoccurring theme as the calendar turns to August.
This fall is no different. While Coach Bill Lynch feels good about Austin Starr at kicker and even better about returnman Marcus Thigpen, the punting situation remains very much up in the air. Gone is four-year starter Tyson Beattie and his 40.5 yard/punt average from a year ago. In his place is one big, giant question mark.
Truth be told, Indiana felt it had its punting situation well in hand. Indiana not only signed one of the top punters in the country in last year's recruiting class, it also got him to campus early. True freshman Chris Hagerup enrolled at IU in January, bringing with him a laundry list of credentials. Among those were a 44.5 yard average along with first-team All-State and All-America accolades.
But what looked really good on paper didn't look quite as formidable during spring drills. Hagerup struggled for the majority of the Hoosiers' 15 spring practices, whether in scrimmages or situational drills. Some of that can likely be attributed to the fact the coaching staff was tinkering with Hagerup's technique, but it still left plenty of questions to be answered this fall.
Hagerup enters the start of fall camp with an excellent shot to be the opening game punter, but he'll have to prove he's up to the challenge during fall camp. His toughest competition figures to come from fifth-year senior Michael Hines, who was steady – but not spectacular – during the spring season as well.
Lynch, meanwhile, is cautiously optimistic that the situation will look a lot better this fall than it did during the spring.
"We'll be fine at punter," Lynch said. "These kids have worked at it all summer. Once they get into camp and get 29 practices with good weather, I think we'll be fine."
That's clearly the staff's hope and presumably their belief, but it will create a great deal more interest in the early portions of fall practice, when the focus is on special teams. It appears to be Hagerup's job to lose, but if he's out-performed by Hines or someone else this fall, it's certainly a possibility that Indiana could go in a different direction.
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