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Indiana's Nick Sheridan Embraces Continuity During Disheveled Football Season

Nick Sheridan might be a first-year offensive coordinator for Indiana, but he's got years of experience with this staff and these players, so he's fully intent on hitting the ground running when the season starts next Saturday.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — All the starts and stops to this season have been difficult for everyone to deal with and, at first glance, you'd think it would be especially difficult on first-time coordinators.

But for Indiana's Nick Sheridan, it's all good. His promotion to offensive coordinator after Kalen DeBoer left to become the head coach at Fresno State has gone smoothly, and there's a good reason for that.

Because it was the plan all along.

Indiana coach Tom Allen turned to Sheridan in the offseason for many reasons, but the most important one was that he could basically take DeBoer's offense and go forward from there. Allen did not want to re-invent the wheel, especially after Indiana's offense was so successful a year ago. With so many starters back, it's just been much easier to march on.

Oh sure, there will be special touches from Sheridan, but when Indiana's season finally opens next Saturday at home against No. 9 Penn State, you'll see a very similar Hoosiers offense.

And that's just fine. Indiana's best play? No question, it's DeBoer to Sheridan for the win.

“I’m forever grateful that our paths crossed,'' Sheridan said of DeBoer, who had the Big Ten's second-best offense during his one year at Indiana. "I learned a ton from him, his knowledge of the scheme, his versatility, his ability to adapt to his personnel, his timing on play-calls, everything. I could go on and on.

“I think the world of Kalen DeBoer. He did a fantastic job, he had great demeanor, he was calm and poised, he was able to think critically in pressure situations. He was great. I haven’t really sat down and made a list of all the things. We could be here for a while, but I am forever grateful that I was able to work under him and with him and learn from him. He was great. I’m just thankful, I guess. He was fantastic.''

Sheridan also has a huge advantage of fully grasping not only the offense, but all of his personal as well. He was the point man in recruiting quarterback Michael Penix Jr., and the pair has a relationship that's now five years old. He coached quarterbacks in 2018, coached tight ends a year ago, and has a great relationship with fellow offensive coaches Mike Hart (running backs), Grant Heard (wide receivers), Darren Hiller (offensive line) and Kevin Wright, the new tight ends coach.

You can't overstate it enough how much that continuity means, especially in a year like 2020 that has been disheveled and disrupted several times since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They're good to go, Sheridan said. 

"I think there is still more to be done, more work to be had, but I like where the group is at,'' said Sheridan, a former Michigan quarterback who knows what it takes to win in the Big Ten. "There is really nothing to compare it to; this is a year unlike any other.

"It is hard to compare it to what a typical calendar year would be relative to training camp, etc. I think our guys have focused on being 1-0 and improving every day. I like where we are at, so we will just keep working to get as good as we can. Hopefully that continues throughout the season and does not just stop when we start playing games.''

Nick Sheridan (left) has coached quarterbacks and tight ends at Indiana prior to being promoted to offensive coordinator in the offseason. (Photo courtesy IU Athletics)

Nick Sheridan (left) has coached quarterbacks and tight ends at Indiana prior to being promoted to offensive coordinator in the offseason. (Photo courtesy IU Athletics)

Using His Weapons Properly

Indiana averaged 302 yards passing a year ago, and that was with using two quarterbacks, Penix and Peyton Ramsey. Penix is back and healthy and, by all accounts, has been brilliant in practices and scrimmages this far. There are weapons all over the field for him to target.

And with Stevie Scott and Sampson James in the backfield, Indiana is also intent on running the ball better this year as well.

This is where we'll see the first challenge next week against Penn State. It's one thing to inherit DeBoer's offense, it's another thing to take the wheel and call the plays live once the bullets start flying.

Don't fret, though. The 32-year-old Sheridan says he's ready. He's got a good feeling for what a defense is giving him — that's the old quarterback in him — and he'll call the game based on what he sees from the other side.

"I know this is a little bit of coach-speak, but if we've got to throw it 70 or run it 70, all we really care about is winning around here,'' Sheridan said. "So, depending on what the game looks like, what your opponent looks like, what the conditions are, I think you need to have some versatility in your offense where you feel confident that when we have to pass it, we can pass it, and when we have to run it, we can run it. 

"Like I said, I know there is a little coach-speak as far as taking what the defense gives us, but it is the truth. There are defenses that structurally make it very challenging to run or throw, and if you cannot do the other, I think that makes it tough. We definitely do not want to be one-dimensional. We want to do whatever it takes to get first downs, score points and ultimately help our team win. That is really what we care about.''

Indiana's offensive assistants were thrilled when Allen promoted Sheridan, because they all love continuity, too. All of them have talked during media availability about how potent this offense can be, and anything less than being at or near the top of the Big Ten once again will be considered a disappointment.  

"I think as a coach, we are never going to say that we have got it all figured out,'' Sheridan said. "There are always things to improve on. My hope is that our last snap this season is our best snap. Our focus really is on constantly improving and there definitely have been moments where I feel that we are on it, and then there has been moments where I feel like we need to continue to work. I think that's just coaching. But there are definitely signs of us trending in the right direction.''

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Hart and Sheridan were teammates at Michigan for two years in 2006 and 2007, Hart as a star running back, Sheridan as a walk-on quarterback. Hart has talked often about Indiana running the ball more this year, and running it better with two stars like Scott and James, and that doesn't surprise Sheridan one bit.

"It's no surprise that the running back coach would mention running the ball more. He was that way when we were teammates, too,'' Sheridan said with a laugh. "The one thing I will say is I am confident in that room, without a doubt, and we're are going do whatever it takes to win. 

"Coach Hart has done a fantastic job recruiting that room and developing that room. We feel confident in the players in that room and look forward to them contributing a significant role.''

Nick Sheridan throws a pass for Michigan in a game against Ohio State in 2008. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nick Sheridan throws a pass for Michigan in a game against Ohio State in 2008. (USA TODAY Sports)

It all starts with the quarterback 

This is Michael Penix Jr's third year on the Indiana campus, and the hope is that it can be his first full season. He's got the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league — or the country, for that matter — but he needs to stay healthy. 

As a freshman in 2018, he tore an ACL in his first career start (third overall game), and last year, after winning the starting job in the preseason, played only three complete games all year. He was injured three different times during the season, and was finally knocked out for the third and finally time after needing clavicle surgery following an injury in the Northwestern game on Nov. 2.

This year will be different. At least that's the hope.

"Michael has developed physically, and I think he is bigger and stronger. I also think his communication has really improved,'' Sheridan said of Penix. "I think that comes from time. He came in, and despite being a super talented freshman, it is a little bit different. He was an 18-year old kid and he was coming into a locker room full of 22-year olds. I just think he has really grown into that. 

"I think that just comes with time and being comfortable with the guys and getting to know the team better. But the sky is the limit for Michael. I know I have told you guys that many times, so we are very excited.''

Leadership and maturity often go hand in hand, and that's certainly the case with Penix.

"I think he is very well-liked and respected by his teammates,'' Sheridan said. "I think that is probably where the biggest growth has come, because certainly, the ability is there. I think his consistency has continued to improve. Our job is to continue to push him and put him in the best situations to be successful.''

What's helped Penix's growth is his full faith and support of Sheridan, whom he's known well since he was a 16-year-old emerging high school star in Tampa, Fla. They are a perfect match.

"What makes him stand out for me is the same for the whole team. Coach Sheridan always brings a lot of energy,'' Penix said. "He brings a lot of juice, and he always comes into meetings excited. He always pushes us to our fullest, and that is something that the guys like.''

Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan has a conversation with quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) during a recent practice. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan has a conversation with quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) during a recent practice. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

And now, it's almost showtime

This condensed Big Ten season is loaded with difficult tests. There are no nonconference warm-up games in the conference-only schedule. Perennial bluebloods Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State are all on the schedule in the first five weeks.

Indiana, which won eight games a year ago and feels like it's turning the corner in being able to compete in the Big Ten, knows that opportunities that lie ahead.

Sheridan knows it, too.

"I like the work ethic, I like the attitude, I like the ability of the players,'' Sheridan said "It's is hard to compare it to other years because this is unlike any other progression from a developmental standpoint, so we are really just taking it one day at a time.

"There are definitely glimpses of us being able to execute at a high level, and there are also things that we need to work on and continue to work on as we get to the season. That process is never ending. We are looking to improve each and every day throughout the whole year.''

Penix can't wait for the season opener, and says that Sheridan has his group ready to go. He got hurt against Penn State two years ago and missed last year's game in Happy Valley after his clavicle injury.

"I feel that we have been executing well with everything that we have going on right now. I feel like everything has been really good,'' Penix said. "We have to make sure that we are finishing our plays. 

"That's one thing that we are stressing this year. Coach is stressing that we finish everything that we do. Last year, we fell short in the bowl game and we did not finish. That is something that Coach Allen and Coach Sheridan always preach to us, to finish. We want to make sure that we execute at our best.''

Nick Sheridan (left) has a great relationship with his quarterbacks, some that go back several years. (Photo courtesy IU Athletics)

Nick Sheridan (left) has a great relationship with his quarterbacks, some that go back several years. (Photo courtesy IU Athletics)