Bloomington – Ben Chappell has won over his teammates, but it’s Kellen Lewis who has won the quarterbacking job.
Citing Lewis’ experience and productivity in both games and fall practice, IU Coach Bill Lynch announced Tuesday that Lewis would be back where he was a year ago – under center and leading the IU football team. While many thought the outcome of the quarterback battle was a foregone conclusion when camp opened three weeks ago, Chappell went didn’t go down without a fight before settling in as the team’s back-up this fall.
“With Ben, what he’s done…he’s really won over his teammates,” Lynch said. “His teammates have a great feel for him when he runs out on the field they’re going to believe we’re going to win football games.”
With Lewis out for four months due to a suspension, Chappell was the team’s No. 1 quarterback throughout spring ball and then shared the responsibility with Lewis throughout fall camp. Lynch said he spoke with both quarterbacks Monday and told them about the decision to go with Lewis for Saturday’s Aug. 30 opener against Western Kentucky.
“I think the competition has made (Kellen) better,” Lynch said. “I think he’s been sharper this summer and he’s on top of his game.”
Tuesday’s announcement ends months of speculation about whether Lewis would rejoin the team, and then eventually whether he’d reclaim his starting role. Lewis had to complete a variety of undisclosed conditions to return to the team, which he did in time to rejoin the squad shortly before the start of fall camp.
“I was always hopeful (he’d meet the guidelines) because I knew down deep Kellen wanted to be the quarterback here at Indiana,” Lynch said. “If I didn’t feel that way, I don’t think I would have been hopeful.”
- according to Lynch, the second starting cornerback job is still undecided.
IU released its first two-deep of the season Monday, and listed redshirt freshman Chris Adkins as the No. 1 opposite Chris Phillips while Donnell Jones and Richard Council were with the No. 2s. While that very well may be how things shake out by the end of the week, Lynch said the starter is still to be determined.
“As we’re sitting here Tuesday, I still can’t tell you who is going to start there,” Lynch said. “The competition has been very good. It’s not that we’re trying to find a guy, I think it’s that we want them to all keep competing.”
- Witih the season opener now just four days away, it remains unclear which of the true freshmen will have a chance to play this season.
The most likely spot for someone to make an immediate impact is wide receiver, and Lynch mentioned both Demarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss as newcomers who have a very good chance to play this season. Lynch mentioned two other first-year players who could get on the field as well, a pair that haven’t been mentioned often as potential contributors.
“Because of some depth issues, I think Justin Pagan and Will Matte could possibly play,” Lynch said.
Matte has been working with the No. 2 unit at center, while injuries as well as Pagan’s solid play have elevated him to the No. 2 unit at offensive tackle.
One player who continues to appear unlikely to play is running back Darius Willis. Lynch said Marcus Thigpen will start at tailback and also said Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray and Trea Burgess could get carries as well. That would seemingly leave Willis on the sidelines until 2009.
“We still don’t know what we’ll do with Darius Willis,” Lynch said. “He’s a really good back and in time will be a complete back. But we also have some guys with good experience ahead of him and we’re not ready to leapfrog him over all those guys.”
Lynch said he wants to make sure that if he plays a freshman, he does so with the thought of giving them significant playing time and not wasting the redshirt season for only spot duty.
“What you don’t want to do is play them a little bit,” Lynch said. “I think that’s when it’s not fair to them.”
Lynch said it’s unlikely that any of the freshman defenders will play this season.
- while there might not be any true freshmen on the field Saturday, one newcomer who will play is Florida transfer Jerimy Finch. The 6’1”, 215-pound safety is still No. 2 on the depth chart behind Austin Thomas at strong safety, but Lynch said he’ll be a part of IU’s special teams and could also play in the secondary.
“We just have to find the right niche for him,” Lynch said. “You’re going to see him on special teams. Where we work him into defense this week, we’ll see as we go through the week.”
Lynch said Finch has said he feels fine from the leg injury that he suffered last season at Florida, although he has been sore at times after practice. The bigger challenge has been learning a new system and getting reacquainted with his old position.
”It’s like bringing a freshman in because it’s a new system,” Lynch said. “Every system is a bit different.”
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