Photo credit - IU Athletics

IU football 2022 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 2022 Indiana football season on Sept. 2 against Illinois (schedule here).

Today we take a look at the safety and husky positions.  For a complete position-by-position look at who is coming and going in 2022, go here.

THE ROSTER

THE SURE THING

They call him the monster, and when Devon “Monster” Matthews is healthy he is a force at strong safety.  He amassed 55 tackles in nine games a year ago, but missed three due to injury, and parts of others.  Matthews was third team All-Big Ten in 2020 and he has played in 40 games to this point in his career.  If he stays healthy all season, Matthews can be one of the top safeties in the Big Ten in 2022.  He’s solid in stuffing the run, steady in coverage, and a respected leader in the locker room.

Joining Matthews in the likely safety/husky starting trio should be a pair of veterans — Bryant Fitzgerald at free safety and Noah Pierre at husky.  All three players are in their fifth seasons with the program, so experience is not a concern with this group.

THE BIG QUESTIONS

What is interesting about Fitzgerald and Pierre — both played different positions a year ago than where they’ll likely start against Illinois.  It isn’t a major concern, as both are returning to positions they’ve played before.  Pierre had a nice game at cornerback against Michigan State and other moments, while Fitzgerald flashed late in the season at husky with several splash plays.  Both players appear to be in roles that suit them best, but it would be more comforting if they had been there all along.

The bigger question is who will become the reliable depth behind the three veterans.  This is a much more proven group on the whole than the cornerbacks, but it remains to be seen who will see the snaps when Indiana rotates.

Josh Sanguinetti has plenty of experience at safety, and IU likes his year-over-year growth.  The fourth-year player tallied 17 tackles, 14 solo, one interception, one fumble recovery, and four pass breakups last season.

Ole Miss transfer Jonathan Haynes and Bryson Bonds look like two others who will see plenty of playing time on the back end.  They are also veterans, in their sixth and third seasons of college football, respectively.  Both dealt with injuries a year ago.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

Safeties coach Jason Jones on the decisions to move Bryant Fitzgerald back to safety, and Noah Pierre back to husky:

“Fitz has played a lot of positions for us. He is one of those guys that has moved around a lot in our defense, so he really understands what is going on. When we looked at it in the spring, it was about trying to get the best 11 guys on the field. We knew that Noah Pierre had really taken a step and we wanted to find a way to get him on the field. The best way to get him on the field was to move Fitz back to free safety.”

KEEP AN EYE ON

A wave of injuries in 2021 allowed true freshman Jordan Grier to see the field perhaps a bit earlier than anyone expected.  He ended up playing in six games at safety and on special teams a year ago, and now he appears to be the best bet to backup Pierre in the husky role, meaning he will see the field plenty.  Grier has a reputation as a playmaker.  He recorded four pick-sixes as a high school junior, and he made an early impression on head coach Tom Allen at fall camp.

“He’s really flashed to me from a year ago to now,” Allen said of Grier.

Grier has bulked up and should be ready for the physicality of the hybrid safety/linebacker role.

COACH SPEAK

Safeties coach Jason Jones at 2022 fall camp:

PRIOR PREVIEWS


The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”