Despite key losses at every level of the IU defense, the clear strength in 2018 seems to be the defensive backfield. A core of strong veterans return and they are bolstered by a group of promising young players.
To be sure IU lost three long-time high-caliber players from its defensive backfield. All three will be difficult to replace. But the Hoosiers will be able to line up with all third year or more players likely starting, and all of these guys will have extensive experience.
Beyond the experienced players, the coaches believe that there is no a major drop-off in talent two or three levels down the depth chart. This seems especially true at the safety position.
WHO IS GONE
Long time starting corner Rashard Fant is on the Chicago Bears preseason roster. He is Indiana’s all-time leader with 58 passes defended and 53 pass breakups, and earned 2nd team All-Big Ten in 2017.
Safety Chase Dutra was honorable mention All-Big Ten and IU’s 2017 special teams player of the year. He has graduated and moved on.
Tony Fields has also graduated. All he did was play in more games than anyone in IU football history.
WHO IS BACK
The leader of this defensive back group appears to be senior safety Jonathan Crawford. He has seen action for the Hoosiers for several years and should provide reliable protection on the back end. Crawford is the leader in tackles, pass breakups, interceptions and fumble recoveries among active players.
Marcelino Ball is back at his Husky position after missing most of 2017 with injuries. The Hoosiers will be at their best with Ball flying all over the field, making plays in the backfield and deep in pass protection.
The likely starting strong safety is Khalil Bryant. The junior has appeared in 11 games each of the last two years and should be ready for a major role, although two promising freshmen are pushing him hard.
The starters at corner appear to be A’Shon Riggins and Andre Brown. They are both juniors eligibility wise and both experienced, with each starting several games last year.
Isaac James moved from wide receiver to corner last year and he appears ready to see a meaningful role in 2018. Sophomore Raheem Layne should also see action at corner.
WHO IS NEW
The primary redshirt and true freshmen that appear ready to see playing time right away are Bryant Fitzgerald (Safety), Juwan Burgess (Safety), Devon Matthews (Safety), Jaylin Williams (Corner) and Cam Jones (Husky). Either Fitzgerald or Matthews could end up starting at safety alongside Crawford.
Former Indiana Mr. Football Reese Taylor is learning to play corner and also saw snaps on offense in fall camp. Don’t be surprised to see him on the field one way or another. (Update — Tom Allen indicated on Monday that Taylor is moving back to quarterback in connection with the news that Brandon Dawkins has left the program).
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Safties Coach Kasey Teegardin:
Cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby:
The biggest stars on this 2018 IU defense appear to be in the defensive backfield, especially if you include the Husky position in this group. One of the biggest questions going in is how much pressure is the rest of the defense going to put on the secondary? Can IU generate a pass rush? Can the linebackers stay clean to make tackles? Even the best DB groups can struggle if there isn’t support from the guys up front.
This unit has the potential to be a fast, big play group that impacts games in a positive way. If the IU defense is going to continue its improved play of recent years under Tom Allen, that scenario seem like the most likely way it will happen in 2018.
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