Don’t count Indiana’s Mark Zilinskas among the coaches who stubbornly stick to an offensive system, no matter the talent he has to work with.
His Indians are getting ready to air it out.
Over the winter, Zilinskas looked at the players he projected to be coming back this fall, and he realized his team would need a more efficient passing game in order to use its talent to its fullest. So rather than stick with the tried-and-true veer option that relies on the ground game, Zilinskas tinkered with things and installed several new packages using concepts from shotgun, no-huddle and spread formations.
It was a decision made out of necessity, although Zilinskas has a few reservations.
“It’s always a concern,” he said, when asked if he was comfortable with the change. “You are more susceptible to disaster. (Passing) plays are not as high percentage. Turnovers are more likely. … You’ve got to learn to live with that. It’s a different kind of mentality.”
But with the talent on the roster, it’s a choice Zilinskas had to make.
He has two giant receivers on the outside — 6-foot-5 senior Darrious Carter and 6-4 junior Riley Stapleton — who will tower over opposing cornerbacks. There also are speedy backs such as Jordan Casses and Miles Dietz who can do damage in the open field.
And then there’s strong-armed quarterback Sean Thompson, who has the touch to deliver the long ball and the accuracy for the short game.
“But we didn’t make the change just because of Sean,” Zilinskas said. “We have some great receivers, guys who are 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, who can go get the ball anywhere. They’re very athletic, and we want to take advantage of what skills they have.”
Thompson is excited about getting the show on the road.
“I’m really excited to get a chance to start off the season as ‘the guy,’” he said. “Maybe I’ll give us a good chance to compete in our section and have a great year. … I’ll be a little more prepared because I am the starter, but I just hope I can help us win games.”
Although Zilinskas has used the veer option heavily in his 12-year career at Indiana, some quarterbacks under his guidance have put up some big numbers, including Kyle Edgar, who passed for a school-record 1,503 yards in 2010, and Logan Weaver, who passed for 20 touchdowns the following year.
So it’s not like the Indians have never thrown the ball. They’ll just be doing it out of different formations this fall.
“I’m really excited,” Thompson said.
Don’t think, though, that the Indians will have a different philosophy for moving the ball. They will still rely on the option, and they’ll still try to use the ground game to wear down the opposition.
“We’ll still run the option, but we’ll be in the gun some more,” Thompson said. “We’ll have our basic option stuff that we’ve always had.”
“I don’t care who you are: You have to be able to run the football,” Zilinskas said. “So that’s going to continue to be a point of emphasis for us. But we are going to open it up a bit and try to throw the ball more because of the personnel we have.”