Chappell makes most of starting role

Danny Daly

Earning Indiana’s starting quarterback job was not easy for Ben Chappell.

Currently a junior, Chappell backed up Kellen Lewis for one season and split snaps with him last year. While converting into a wide receiver during the offseason, Lewis was kicked off the team due to an unspecified rules violation.

That left Chappell as the primary signal caller, and he is enjoying his chance to have the position all to himself.

“It feels great,” Chappell said at Big Ten Media Day in July. “It hasn’t really changed too much for me – the last couple years, I’ve gone into camp wanting to be the guy, so I’ve approached it the same way. From a leadership standpoint, it’s made it a little bit easier on me. The guys know who’s going to be in there.”

The Hoosiers have responded well to Chappell’s transition to full-time starter.

“Our guys have a lot of confidence in Ben,” coach Bill Lynch said. “He’s a good leader, hard worker, smart, but he really gets along very well with his teammates. Early on in his career, shoot, he lived with all the offensive linemen. He’s done a good job handling the situation, and now it’s his turn and he’s ready to go.”

Coming into the season, Chappell had more experience than most in his situation. He started three conference games in 2008, including Indiana’s lone Big Ten win – a 21-19 victory against Northwestern.

While Chappell took his share of lumps for a team that finished 3-9, which he described as “humbling,” the experience is beginning to pay off. Indiana dropped a squeaker to Michigan to kick off Big Ten play and is riding high after a resounding 27-14 win over Illinois – which Chappell started against last year in a losing effort.

“You get to play in those games,” Lynch said. “Whether you played well or made mistakes, those things all add up and are going to help him in the future.”

Last Saturday’s game against the Illini was the best of Chappell’s career. He threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns, committing no turnovers for only the second time this season.

Considering NU’s banged-up secondary and its problems containing Michigan State’s passing game in the second half last week, Chappell might have a few opportunities for long completions. He has completed at least one pass for more than 25 yards in all but one contest.

“He’s playing within the system,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He’s throwing the intermediate ball really well, taking a good six to eight shots deep. You need to anticipate that coming off of playaction.”

Indiana has altered its offensive strategy this year to take advantage of Chappell’s skills. With the mobile Lewis under center, the Hoosiers ran more of a spread formation.But Chappell is in the mold of a classic pocket passer, and the offense has become more traditional to accommodate his focus.

“We’re going to a little bit more of a downhill running game, more of a power running game, where it plays to the strength of an offensive line that has developed over the last couple of years and puts the playaction pass back into the game plan,” Lynch said. “That certainly fits Ben.”

The Hoosiers work in a few plays out of the Wildcat formation with backup quarterback Mitchell Evans, which gives Chappell a rest and keeps him fresh.

One of the biggest positives of promoting Chappell to the top of the depth chart has been the stability it has brought to the team. There was more uncertainty when Lewis and Chappell were sharing the position, especially because of their conflicting styles.That uncertainty is no longer an issue.

“We’ve got a lot of cohesion on the offensive side right now,” Chappell said. “We had a great summer, we had more guys at workouts this summer than since I’ve been here. We’ve had a lot of time together as a unit.”

Though Chappell only recently began to have a bigger role on the field, he has always been a strong influence off it. The Bloomington, Ind., native is active in his hometown.”He’s a role model,” senior defensive end Jammie Kirlew said. “Parents want to tell their parents who to be like – Ben Chappell. He’s a great guy in the community, so everybody around town loves him.”

Chappell also excels in the classroom and was honored as an Academic All-Big Ten selection a year ago.

That intelligence translates well to the gridiron. Chappell often impresses his coach with his ability to break down plays as they develop.

“Some quarterbacks come off the field after a play, and you ask them what they saw, and it gets a little bit scattered,” Lynch said. “He can tell you everything he saw, where everybody was on defense, and then, when you turn the tape on after the game and watch it, he was right. Then you know he’s really seeing it.”

Now he finally has the chance to see it on a regular basis.

[email protected]