Tevin Coleman, pictured above, earned the distinction of being named Indiana's No. 1 back out of preseason camp because of his consistency and effort, but his coaches still caution that no playing time is guaranteed to anyone yet.
During fall practice, senior center Will Matte and his fellow offensive linemen don’t get a great look at the running backs they block for, as they spend most of their time facing away from the tailbacks.
In the film room, though, Matte was very impressed by the looks of true freshman running back Tevin Coleman.
“You don’t really see it when you’re blocking, but you can see (on film) that he has that extra gear,” Matte said. “He really can fly. He gets out of blocks and all of a sudden, he’s gone.”
That explosiveness out of the backfield is just what IU head coach Kevin Wilson and his staff had in mind when they recruited him out of Oak Forest High School in the Chicago area. Coleman was a first-team all-state tailback, rushing for 949 yards on just 83 carries, good for an average of 11.3 yards per rush.
Coleman will share time in the backfield with redshirt junior Stephen Houston and sophomore D’Angelo Roberts. It is a group that Matte called the most talented group of runners in his five years at IU.
Even in a backfield crowded with talent and experience, Wilson has seen Coleman emerge as an example of someone who not only has ability, but who also practices hard.
“You’ll see them all,” Wilson said of the top three running backs. “I don’t know if I’d call anyone the starter, but Tevin has played harder, and has the most talent. We’ll start with that and see how it goes.”
While offensive coordinator Seth Littrell praised Coleman’s ability to break long runs and Matte hardly had words to describe his athleticism, Wilson praised his mindset, comparing him favorably to Houston, last season’s leading rusher.
“Coleman’s got a little bit more of that edge, where there’s a little bit more physical presence, a little more toughness,” Wilson said. “With that, you’ve got a freshman who makes mistakes, so neither one is really the one yet.”
Houston didn’t begin the 2011-12 season as the starter, as he was a late-summer junior college transfer. He began earning playing time as the season moved along, eventually breaking the 100-yard mark against three Big Ten opponents.
Headed into fall camp, Houston was expected to be not only a starter on offense, but a leader as well. While his backfield partner, sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson, has stood out to Wilson as a hard worker, Wilson is still looking for more from Houston.
“Stephen can probably be the most consistent, but doesn’t play the hardest,” Wilson said.
Offensive line coach Greg Frey stressed that in terms of separating the running backs and judging the best, it is still too early to tell, especially with Coleman never having played a collegiate snap.
“Until you get into that game mode and until you go out there and compete against other people, it’s hard,” Frey said of the ability to determine starters. “You’re going against guys that have heard the same calls for 30-some practices, and we’ve lined up against the same techniques, and so you get into a groove against them. It’s important to realize that we’re not playing us.”
The Hoosiers are, in fact, playing in-state foe Indiana State, which ranked 82nd in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing yardage allowed in 2012. However, the Sycamores open the season ranked no. 23 in The Sports Network Preseason Poll.
IU played one game against FCS competition in 2011, when the Hoosiers ran for 257 and touchdowns from both Roberts and Houston.
It will be the second straight season the Sycamores will play their first game against a Big Ten opponent, as they took on Penn State last season. The Nittany Lions ran for nearly 250 yards against them, but Frey isn’t underestimating their ability to stop the rush.
“They do a very nice job there,” Frey said. “We’re watching them on film, watching them against Penn State last year, they compete very hard, and they’re good football players.”