BLOOMINGTON — Marcelino Ball wouldn't commit. Maybe he'll lobby for it. Maybe not. A two-way football role is a unique challenge and if you saw Indiana's safety in Thursday night's spring game with his 23-yard reverse run, if you saw the way he burst onto the college scene last season as few freshmen do, you know how unique he is.
Tom Allen wouldn't commit. The Hoosiers' first-year head coach knows the talent he has in Ball, and the risk that comes from playing him too much.
And if Allen forgot, there was Thursday night's injury to standout cornerback Rashard Fant, who lay on the field for multiple nerve-wracking minutes after attempting a tackle (“I'm not sure, but I feel good about it,” Allen said) before walking to the locker room, to remind him.
The Hoosiers have potential to end a decade-long run of losing records next season, and Allen wants to maximize it while not pushing the envelope too far.
Take Ball, a freshman All-America who totaled 75 tackles and two interceptions last season. He showed Jabrill Peppers two-way flash with his Memorial Stadium run Thursday night.
Is that a sign of things to come?
“No. No. No,” Ball said with a smile. “We were just messing around.”
And then …
“Hopefully I'll do it more. It was exhilarating. Maybe I'll try to get the coaches to do it again. We'll see.”
That anyone saw it at all Thursday night was part of Allen's plan to mix fun with focus despite assistant coaches' reservations.
"The defensive staff was like, 'If something happens to that guy…' So I said, 'He has one play.'”
Will Ball get more such plays next season?
"You never know,” Allen said. “He looked pretty good didn't he?
“You saw the athlete he is, so I wasn't shocked. I told him you don't palm the ball. He's not Deion (Sanders). He may get an interception, which I'm sure he will, and he's going to score. He's a gifted athlete and that's what they do, make plays.”
Thursday play-making included quarterback Peyton Ramsey, last year's scout player of the year as a true freshman. With a redshirt season behind him and the benefit that comes from having a father as a head coach (he was a dual-threat high-school standout for Doug Ramsey and Cincinnati Elder), he'll get his August camp shot.
On Thursday night Ramsey was 10-for-17 for 92 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a touchdown.
“I am not surprised by (Ramsey's) play at all,” Allen said. “I watched him last year when he worked with the scouts as a true freshman. He is a coach's kid. He has a lot of confidence and toughness. He is a good decision maker and a really good football player.”
Returning starter Richard Lagow was 20-for-34 for 181 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Allen and new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord have made it clear no job is guaranteed, so while Lagow has the edge after last year's 3,362-yard, 19-touchdown effort, and after winning spring offensive MVP honors, he has to work to keep it.
“We all need to be pushed,” Allen said. “People need to feel that there is somebody on their heels. That keeps us sharp; keeps us focused.”
That's fine with receiver Simmie Cobbs, who is back after missing last season with an ankle injury.
“It's great when you have competition between the quarterbacks. It always makes them better. And you have to have a good backup quarterback because you never know what can happen.”
Added Lagow: “(Ramsey is) doing an amazing job. He is able to make to make plays. He's athletic. He takes care of the ball.
“We push each other. It's a little different because I'm the older guy in the room. He still looks to learn from me. He has a bright future.”
IU's future will include keeping defenses off balance, sometimes with varying the tempo, sometimes with a bit of trickery.
Allen allowed the Cream and Crimson squads to use two trick plays during Thursday's game. He even separated the squads during Tuesday's practice so they could work on them in private.
Besides Ball's run, receiver Isaac James threw a 68-yard pass to running back Ricky Brookins.
“Sometimes you work on a (trick) play a whole bunch and it doesn't work,” Allen said. “Sometimes you work on a play one time and you rush for a big play. I wanted to make it fun."
Fun ultimately will come from winning. IU hasn't had a winning record since 2007. Before that, it was 1994.
Allen is driven to build a consistent winner, starting next season.
“We wanted to improve fundamentally, wanted to be able to experiment with some scheme, develop depth and end the spring as a better football team,” he said. “I believe we accomplished those four things.
"(The offense has) a good grasp of the basic concepts of what we're installing. They want to execute it in a game-like situation.
“We played a whole bunch of guys. I felt like they made a lot of progress. I feel good with where they are at. Obviously, we have a long way to go. It's a good start. We have a good foundation laid. We're ready to go to Phase Two, which is the summer phase."
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