“I feel like I’ve improved the most in pass protection,” Lucas added. “It’s not too much of letting guys loose. I think I’ve been on top of that.”
It’s midway through fall camp and you can sense a shift in confidence from Indiana football sophomore running back Jaylin Lucas. The ‘early-game jitters’ that were attached to Lucas as a true freshman have now left his side, opening the door for a looser ‘Jay Lu’.
“The biggest thing from a year ago to where he’s at (now) … the early game jitters. When he was a true freshman, an early enrollee, that was a lot for him. He plays like a second year player (now),” IU running backs coach Craig Johnson said on Monday. “He’s understanding the game, the pace of the game, what he needs to do. Football is very important to him, he works on his craft hard. I think — I like what I see so far, but I’m never in love with what I see and they know there is always room to grow.”
Lucas didn’t become much of a factor in the offense for Indiana until week five. After that, he took off turning into one of the most elusive backs in college football — both offensively and on special teams.
He saw his breakout game happen against Rutgers. He returned the opening kickoff back for a touchdown en route to 124 kickoff return yards. He also had 39 receiving yards and 27 rushing yards. He would go on to have at least one touchdown in three of the four weeks to follow.
He finished 2022 with 591 kick return yards with a 28.1 yard per return average which ranked fourth nationally. His two kickoff returns for touchdowns led the FBS. This season, it’s about turning that skillset into a well-rounded and ‘three-phase’ player.
“I just think that as a three-phase player: running the ball, catching the ball and pass protection. I put that on every back I’ve been on for all the years I’ve coached them. And don’t be happy you had ‘such-and-such’ a year ago because last year is over. No one cares,” Johnson said. “And this year, I expect him to step up in all three phases. He is attempting to do that and he has made some very good strides.”
Lucas ended his freshman season as an All-American. He enters year two as a preseason All-American and has landed on watch lists for the Walter Camp, Doak Walker and Paul Hornung awards.
Despite all of the success, Lucas hasn’t let that get to his head. Instead, it’s allowed for a looser mindset and his teammates and coaches are seeing that.
“He’s playing more free,” Indiana running back Josh Henderson said. “He’s already a freestyle kinda guy but it’s fun to see him let loose and do what he does and make people miss. Just run around the field and it’s cool to see him play with a new confidence he has from last year.”
“I feel way (more) confidence. I know what I’m doing and I’m way more relaxed,” Lucas said. ” … my confidence is high.”
For Indiana football to hit some of the goals it has this season, the growth of Lucas is imperative.
Whether it’s in the pass game, the run game or return game, Indiana is pushing Lucas to do more and be more all while continuing to produce.
“Anytime you have success as a young player, everyone will always try to see what the next step for you and what he’s going to do. I just tell him, his burning desire is to play at the maximum at what you have. So whatever that is, at that time. I want you to turn it loose and not be afraid to make mistakes … I’m not too concerned about what he’s going to do when he touches the ball because he does a lot of good things. You always want to be a player on the rise and I think Jay Lu is on that path … He’s got obviously a diverse set of skills, we’re going to push him to see what he can do.”
“I’m just ready to keep elevating my game in each level I can,” Lucas added. ” … In the return game, I’m expecting more. Whenever I touch the ball I’m ready to take it to the house.”
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