Penix

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Indiana quarterback Michael Paenix Jr. says he’s confident his past injuries are well behind him.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Penix gave the 2020 college football season one of its enduring images — a headfirst lunge toward the end zone to beat Penn State in overtime.

It ignited a special season in Bloomington. Now, nine months later, Indiana fans are worried about that same knee. How is Penix recovering from the ACL tear he suffered last season? Is there any additional lag in rehabilitation since he’s now torn it twice? Will he be ready for the season opener at Iowa?

Speaking during Indiana’s turn through Big Ten media days July 23, Penix was dead sure of two things: He got the pylon that night against the Nittany Lions, and he’ll be ready for the start of the season.

“I’m right where I need to be right now,” he said. “100% Sept. 4 (at Iowa).”

No question has lingered over the Hoosiers’ inflated ambitions this offseason more than Penix’s health.

When fit to play, Penix is perhaps the best quarterback in the conference, certainly since Justin Fields departed for the NFL. Penix can make NFL throws at all three levels, he possesses one of the best deep balls in the FBS and across his career, he’s shown the ability to be both efficient and explosive.

The only glaring issue has been health. For the third-straight season — and the second time in three years because of an ACL tear in his right knee — Penix will spend at least a portion of the preseason answering questions about his fitness.

Penix will participate in all of fall camp except live periods. IU coach Tom Allen confirmed Penix won’t be in any contact drills (not that he would’ve been anyway).

Indiana’s focus will be getting him sharp after he missed virtually all of spring practice, without stressing him more than is necessary, both for a player returning from injury, and also one with little left to prove at the college level.

“We have to rely on him,” Allen said. “He’s a mature young man. He’s been here, he understands his body. He’s going to have to communicate with us how he feels. ...

“We’ve got to do a great job as a staff of maximizing our time, getting ready. He doesn’t need as many as maybe he needed a couple of years ago because of his experience, but he’s got to be sharp.”

As he rehabbed his knee, Penix filled his summer acting the part of a big-time college quarterback.

He worked out with Quincy Avery, the renown skills coach who worked with San Francisco 49ers draftee Trey Lance and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

And Penix served as a counselor at the prestigious Manning Passing Academy, working out with the Manning brothers alongside some of the top quarterbacks in college football.

For a player seen by many as the best quarterback in the conference in the preseason, exposure to quarterback talent of that pedigree left Penix with a clutch of valuable lessons. Former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning made a particular impression, talking about how to demand perfection out of his teammates in preparation each week.

“He said they didn’t run (routes) until they got it right,” Penix said, referring to Manning’s workouts with his receivers. “They ran it until they couldn’t get it wrong.”

The product of all that outside work, for Allen, was increased confidence and maturity, from a player who has never wanted much for either.

“He had a great experience at both places,” Allen said, “and got such positive feedback from folks who were there.”

All that is put to one side now.

The Hoosiers will open camp soon, with Iowa on the horizon and the conference no longer ignorant of Indiana’s collective ability.

So much of IU’s ambition this season rests on the shoulders of its talented quarterback, meaning much of the focus in the next month will be trained on his recovery. Penix’s talent is undeniable. If he is full strength by the time the Hoosiers travel to Iowa on Labor Day Weekend, Indiana should be a problem for the Big Ten once more.

“I’m doing really good,” Penix said. “ Sept. 4, I’ll definitely be ready.”

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