BLOOMINGTON – Michael Penix Jr. feels good enough for his right knee at this point that he would have no problem testing it a bit more. It’s been 8 1/2 months now since the last time he put the ball in and ran against direct action, and he wouldn’t mind getting a better sense of his ability to make defenders lose before the opening of the Indiana season in Iowa on September 4th.
But Indiana football coach Tom Allen has no interest in taking chances in the first pre-season since 1968, in which the Hoosiers were ranked in the Top 25. Especially not with a center-back who could be the best in the Ten, but also has seen all three of his previous college seasons end due to serious injury.
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So whenever a defensive player arrives somewhere near Penix in a quarrel situation, Allen ends the game on the spot.
“Coach Allen, he has a quick whistle every time,” Penix said at a news conference Monday. “Even sometimes when I want to use my legs a little, he will shout a quick whistle. Understand. He is just looking for me and looking for this team. ”
He is, because every day it becomes much clearer than the sound holding of the left wing can raise the ceiling for the Hoosiers, who will start the season ranked no. 17 in both the USA Today coaching survey and the Associated Press survey. Allen is pleased with Jack Tuttle’s backup development and the impressive start of former Lawrence North phenomenon Donaven McCulley, but Penix is acting and performing as captain.
Much of his maturity comes from the experience of so much time spent rehabilitating from injuries, with what he suffered last November being his second ACL tear in three seasons.
“(Healing from injury) has allowed him to have an advantage over him, a trust in him and a determination you need to have to excel in this game and excel in this life,” Allen said. “He has grown as a leader. He is of course very calm. He probably would not have put himself out there in some of these situations, but that is what the position requires. You see growth in that area, especially when it comes to correcting guys and calling them and holding them accountable. ”
Beyond being a better leader, he is also a better passer-by than he was when he arrived in Bloomington in 2018. Against the 6-3, 218-pounder there has always been strength and speed after his shots, but he has cleared his mechanics and has learned to change speed and make transitions more complete.
He was already heading in that direction towards the end of last season when he shot for 1,645 yards and 14 touchdowns in six games. But now it looks even more natural. His performance on Saturday in Hoosiers’ first pre-season attack was a big part of why Allen felt the attack was better than the defense.
“He has more touches on the deep ball,” Allen said. “This has been a great focus. Being able to throw a more accessible ball ever. I think when you are young, you are trying to throw the ball fast all the time. But you learn how to take a different approach and throw a more accessible ball. ”
Penix does not miss much these days when its receivers are leading the way against the air. Against IU defenders in practice, he generally does a good job of putting his wide positions in position to win battles for the ball, regardless of whether they have to jump for it or run under it. He has become a complete passerby, and not just a strong arm.
His next step, Penix says, is to prove he can still throw in motion. This is something he works with when there are no defenders to avoid and no reason for Allen to issue an early whistle.
“I just worked on accuracy,” Penix said. “I feel like I can make some money in my pocket. It’s just working on a few things off the platform, things out of pocket on the run. Coming out of injury, making sure I can continue to run, plant, get up when I need to. Things like that. I definitely worked on that off-season, just making sure I stay fit. ”
To see all the value of the progress he has made, Allen is making sure Penix stays healthy and does not see another truncated season. His whistle may not protect Penix in the days of the game once the season starts, but at least it is keeping him on track to be healthy at the start of the game against Iowa.
“I’m feeling very good,” Penix said. “I feel like I’m ready to play. I know when September 4th comes, I know I will be ready, 100% without any worries. ”
Follow the Herald-Times IU Insider Dustin Dopirak on Twitter at @DustinDopirak or email him at DDopirak@gannett.com.