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IU football 2021 position previews: The safeties and huskies

The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2021 Indiana football season on Sept. 4 against Iowa.

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


As we shift from the cornerbacks to the safety and husky positions, one thing remains a constant — experience.  Indiana’s most impactful group in 2020 — the back-seven — returns almost in its entirety, and even welcomes back one of its most experienced and dynamic leaders.

WHO IS GONE

Unlike the cornerbacks, there is one major headline loss in this group.  First-team All-Big Ten performer Jamar Johnson was Indiana’s lone 2021 NFL Draft choice, and he leaves a production void that will be difficult to fill.

Johnson posted 43 tackles, including 33 solo, one sack, and 3.5 tackles for loss.  His four interceptions led the team, and he added one forced fumble and four pass breakups.  Johnson was tied for third in the conference and eighth nationally in interceptions.

A fifth round choice by the Denver, Johnson is currently competing for a roster spot at the Broncos’ training camp.

THE 2021 ROSTER

RETURNING WITH EXPERIENCE

Safety

Devon Matthews was third-team All-Big Ten in 2020.  The strong safety brings 14 starts and 31 game appearances into his fourth season with the program.  A big bruising hitter, Matthews had 40 tackles, including 26 solo, one sack, two for loss, one interception, six pass breakups, and one quarterback hurry in 2020.

Raheem Layne is expected to replace Johnson at free safety.  A converted cornerback, Layne missed the entire 2020 season with an injury.  In 2019 as a cornerback he posted 30 tackles, including 28 solo, two for loss, and three pass breakups.  He was also IU’s special teams player of the year.  Layne brings 37 games of experience.

Juwan Burgess has started seven times and played in 31 games over the last three years.  He is expected to rotate with Layne at free safety.

Husky

Marcelino McCrary-Ball has been with the program since 2016, and he brings 38 starts at the husky position.  Ball missed the entire 2020 season after suffering a preseason ACL injury.

Bryant Fitzgerald started all eight games at husky in 2020 and has appeared in 31 games over three seasons.  He has also played safety during his time at IU.

NAMES ON THE RISE/IMPACT NEWCOMERS

Jonathan Haynes is a bit of a wildcard at safety.  He just joined the program this month after transferring from Ole Miss.  In two seasons in the SEC he compiled 86 tackles – 49 solo – with one tackle for loss, two interceptions and three pass breakups.

Josh Sanguinetti has bounced between cornerback and safety early in his career as the staff tries to find the best fit.  Going into fall camp he was listed as the No. 2 strong safety behind Matthews on the depth chart, so he is clearly someone to keep an eye on.  We also listed him on our cornerbacks preview because the addition of Haynes could ultimately mean his versatility could be used at either position.

Bryson Bonds was a highly regarded true freshman in 2020 who should figure into the rotation.  He played in eight games and collected two tackles at safety last season.

Noah Pierre is a fourth year player with 19 games of experience.

Jordan Jusevitch is a fourth year player.  His role has mostly been on the scout team and special teams to this point.

Deland McCullough II is the son of running backs coach Deland McCullough.  Now in his third year of college football, he played in three games for Miami (Ohio) before transferring to IU.

Jordan Grier is a true freshman from Georgia.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

Marcelino Ball on his evolution as a leader —

“My perspective is different. You always want to be around winners. I was always a follower. I always wanted to follow someone who was going to lead me to success. Now, I’m that guy and people are looking to me in some way, shape or form to be the leader. All those years following guys that are successful, now it’s time for me to take on that torch. Going into this year I feel like I can be an asset as far as leading us to success and continuing to win.”

Safeties coach Jason Jones on Devon Matthews —

“He did take a great step least year just locking in and understanding the defense. My challenge to him is as he now understands what is going on in the back end with the safeties, the husky and the two corners, now let’s take the next step and understand what the linebackers are doing and what is happening up front to see the entire picture.”

Raheem Layne on his transition to safety from corner —

“The corners and safeties are really like one unit, so we work together a lot. It was really a lot of cross over, but there were a couple of things that changed. I just need to be more vocal since I am the safety, and I am the quarterback out there in the secondary. I just need to be more vocal, which is the biggest difference between corner and safety. I made the transition pretty smooth, and I have a great coach that helped me through the whole process.”

THE OUTLOOK

The two big questions as it relates to this group are whether McCrary-Ball can return to his All-Big Ten form at husky, and whether Layne is ready to complete the move from corner and be the back-end of the defense.  The good news is that IU has a lot of depth behind both players.

While there is overall depth, it may be lacking at strong safety where it will be important that Matthews stays healthy.  Haynes could ultimately be a quality backup once he is better initiated in the schemes.

While there is a bit more uncertainty than at cornerback, there is enough experience in these groups to once again expect big things in 2020.

MORE POSITION PREVIEWS


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