Hiller plugs holes, adds to foundation with 2020 additions
After a breakout recruiting cycle by Indiana offensive line coach Darren Hiller, the Hoosier offensive line has plugged a few of its inevitable holes after the 2019 season.
Indiana offensive line coach Darren Hiller’s part in the success of the 2019 Hoosiers can be easy to overlook, with the marvel of redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Penix, the new offensive system put in place by Kalen DeBoer and Whop Philyor’s breakout season.
But Hiller’s influence, as the offensive line coach and the co-run game coordinator with Mike Hart, was essential to the offense that eventually rated second in the Big Ten, as true freshman left tackle Matt Bedford held his own after the Coy Cronk injury and Caleb Jones, who was a question mark upon his signing in 2017 and worked closely in development with Hiller for two years, became the highest-graded IU offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus.
It was his efforts on the recruiting trail in 2019, though, that might keep the offense rolling and eventually define the early stages of his time at Indiana.
“I think (Dylan Powell) gives us a chance to kind of fill some of those holes you have in the upper part of our class that I feel like over time have kind of been created with some injuries and caused guys not to be able to finish,” Head coach Tom Allen said Wednesday after signing 18 players to the 2020 class. “I feel like Coach Hiller understood that, addressed our needs. I really like our offensive line class.”
Powell, a grad transfer guard out of Stanford, was destined to headline the 2020 offensive line class, as he provides immediate relief on the interior of the line after having been named a starter at Stanford and missing the season because of a labrum injury. He is expected to play at Indiana for two seasons, though must appeal for the second year.
The “holes” that Powell will be tasked to plug upon his arrival in January will be opened once fifth-year senior interior linemen Simon Stepaniak and Hunter Littlejohn have finish their seasons in Bloomington.
As Indiana has discovered in most recent seasons, having a stable of capable offensive linemen is significant, and 2019 was a testament to that. But, as Allen pointed out Wednesday, there is a dissonance between the number of current upperclassmen and lowerclassmen. There are 44 current Hoosiers in their first or second seasons and only 23 in their third or fourth.
While that bodes well for the future, it does not bode well for 2020 at offensive line, where there is potential for under-developed contributors. But Powell will help bridge that gap on the interior.
As far as the other holes, Allen said he’s happy with the progression the team is making in creating the complete unit, particularly at tackle, where DaVondre Love will leave as the utility backup and there’s no guarantee that Cronk will return for his final season. It’s also unknown whether Aiden Rafferty and Nick Marozas – two eventual redshirt sophomores – or Tim Weaver – an eventual redshirt freshman – have developed enough to back up Jones or Bedford, which they will surely do in 2020.
Adding All-Indiana selection Luke Wiginton provides some stability behind those backups, and bringing in California junior college 6-foot-7 tackle Luke Haggard, who will redshirt 2020 to add weight after weighing about 225 out of high school and currently 255, will be in line with the three backup tackles by 2021.
“Those two guys kind of give us that length you are looking for,” Allen said about his tackle signees.
The interior is where Hiller and the staff were hoping to stack some young talent. Four of the six offensive line signees will play the interior.
Mackenzie Nworah and Harry Crider will enter their final years of eligibility in 2020, and behind them are eventual redshirt junior Britt Beery and eventual redshirt freshman Mike Katic, as well as no centers, save for long snapper Sean Wracher.
The center spot was filled quickly, as Cam Knight, the brother of former Hoosier and current Dallas Cowboy Brandon Knight, committed to Indiana after Hiller aided in developing his brother into an NFL-caliber lineman. Knight was an All-Indiana selection in 2019 as well.
Missouri guard Brady Feeney – no relation to former Indiana All-American Dan Feeney – was a three-time All-State selection in high school and is probably the furthest along, in terms of technique, in the class. Fort Wayne guard Randy Holtz was named Mr. Football at the offensive line position by the IFCA for 2019 and, at 6-foot-7 and nearly 350 pounds, he can develop into either a guard or a tackle.
“Coach (Hiller) did a really good job of identifying these types of bodies that we're looking for for each spot,” Allen said.
More than identifying and bringing in linemen to fill the team’s needs, Hiller connects with the offensive line recruits. Haggard told TheHoosier.com before he announced his commitment that Hiller “just gets you, I guess.” And other signees, like Wiginton and Powell, have talked to TheHoosier.com about Hiller’s personality and how it’s ideal for an offensive line coach.
In a conference that relies so heavily on the trenches for success and on an offensive line being cohesive, it’s hard not to mention Hiller when it comes to molding a culture within a room and recruiting to that culture to set the program up for success down the road.
After his breakout 2020 recruiting cycle, Hiller has begun to round out an impressive tenure at Indiana after three years.