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Indiana football 2020 position preview: The safeties and huskies

The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2020 Indiana University football season on October 24 against Penn State in Bloomington.

Today we take a look at the safety and husky positions.


Preseason injuries have caused some shuffling on the back side of Indiana’s defense.

Fortunately, it is an area where the Hoosiers return a wealth of experience.  Together with some exciting young talent, the safety and husky positions can be strengths for IU in 2020.

Indiana welcomes a new position coach in 2020 as Jason Jones arrives in Bloomington from Florida Atlantic.

WHO IS GONE

Khalil Bryant is the only major contributor from 2019 that has moved on.

As a senior Bryant shared second on the team with 55 tackles and was third with 32 solo stops.  He appeared in all 13 games, starting 8 times.

Bryant won the team’s Corby Davis Memorial Award for outstanding back.

THE 2020 ROSTER

RETURNING WITH EXPERIENCE

Let’s start with the bad news.  Husky Marcelino Ball is out for the season with a torn ACL.  Safety Raheem Layne is expected to miss a meaningful portion of the season.

After playing safety the last two years, Bryant Fitzgerald has moved to husky where he is now expected to start.  Fitzgerald made the position change in the spring.

Devon Matthews has a lot of experience at safety, playing in 23 games for his career.  He posted 37 tackles including 26 solo, with two pass breakups while starting in six games in 2019.

Juwan Burgess collected 29 tackles and shared the team lead with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.  He started seven games and played in all 13 at strong safety.

Jamar Johnson had the memorable pick-six at the Gator Bowl.  He made the switch from husky to safety during the offseason but could end up wherever duty calls if one position or the other has stronger needs.  Johnson had 25 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 interceptions last year.

NAMES ON THE RISE/IMPACT NEWCOMERS

True freshman Bryson Bonds has been generating buzz during fall camp and is expected to play this year at safety.

Noah Pierre and Jordan Jusevitch are two players that will fight to emerge with a spot in the rotation in their third year in the program.  That might happen given the injury situation and the likelihood that IU goes three deep in their defensive rotations at times.  Both could play safety or husky.

Although he is still listed on the roster as a linebacker, sophomore D.K. Bonhomme is getting in some reps at husky to help with depth at the position.

Via Bryson Bonds on Instagram

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

Fitzgerald on learning the husky position —

“I need to know the playbook more in-depth now and know where my run fits are,” Fitzgerald said at fall camp.  “It is very different from free safety. I need to know my pass responsibility more than ever. I will be playing more against the slots than against the tight ends. I will be more into the boundary and more with run fits. There are a lot of different things that I have to do. I need to work on my blitz technique. At free safety, I never used to blitz. I need to get different techniques in my arsenal that help me diversify my game to better the team.”

Matthews on making a jump as an upperclassman —

“I definitely notice that,” Matthews said at fall camp.  “I am working hard and I feel more comfortable out there. We are communicating with each other. I understand the defense a lot more now. I am going into my third year, so I am definitely understanding it more. That is really helping me a lot, the experience. I feel a great year coming.”

Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack on Marcelino Ball —

“We lose guys like that and it is a tough deal,” Wommack said.  “We hate to lose Marcelino. I hate it for him and I hate it for us.”

THE OUTLOOK

The early injuries create question marks.

Can Fitzgerald adjust to his new position and be ready on week one?  Can Johnson?

Can Matthews make the jump to become the high impact player many expect that he can be?

Will depth become a problem?

Losing Ball is a big deal.  He is an elite, versatile athlete perfectly suited for the husky position at the college level.

Fitzgerald, Johnson, Matthews and Burgess bring a lot of experience to the table and form a solid core that should be good from the jump.  Their ability to adapt, emerge, and stay healthy will be a big part of the story on this IU defense.


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