Indiana returns more defensive production in 2020 than any team in the Big Ten, and that is never a bad thing.
But with the incredibly unique set of circumstances leading up to the 2020 season, continuity might just carry extra significance.
It is impossible to know at this point just how much time college football teams will have to prepare for the upcoming season. Of course we don’t know sitting here if there will even be a season.
But assuming Indiana kicks off their 2020 campaign as scheduled on Sept. 4 in Madison, the Hoosier defense should arrive at Camp Randall Stadium with an advantage.
Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack also returns for his second season leading the Hoosiers, and Indiana returns the 4-2-5 defensive scheme that head coach Tom Allen installed when he arrived in 2016.
While nothing feels the same right now, there will be a lot of familiarity whenever the Hoosiers take the field again.
“I think the fact that we’re an experienced group coming back. that part is very exciting because experience is much more significant coming out of last season so I think having those guys back, not changing systems defensively, having enough continuity to our defense even though we got new coaches, they know our system,” Wommack said. “They know what we’re about. They know we’re also very aligned fundamentally on what we want to do.”
Of course Indiana is not coming off of what could be described as a typical season in the Hoosier sense. They won eight games. They went to a bowl game. And that means they spent an extra month together, practicing, preparing, and building a more cohesive team.
“The fact we played a January bowl game. That to me helps as much as anything because you just want to keep them connected to the game of football. The fact that we were able to play a January bowl game and at least get four spring practices in puts us in a good situation moving forward, I think,” Wommack said.
Indiana has perhaps the most returning experience in its secondary, and that luxury allows Wommack to be strategic in the personnel that he will have on the field this fall.
While they didn’t get to execute many live reps in the spring, Wommack envisions utilizing some of his more versatile defensive backs in various positions depending on the situation.
“For us, situational downs, third down, red zone, two-minute scenarios, four-minute scenarios, how do we get guys not just on the field but how do we get them in the best position to feature them both schematically and athletically? Tiawan Mullen, Reese Taylor, Marcelino Ball, especially featuring him in some different ways and getting him a little closer to the box so that he can check the quarterback on passing downs I think is going to be a huge emphasis to our defense moving forward, Wommack said.
“I’m probably most excited about our personnel moves as much as I’ve been in the defense. We’d love to have a couple more reps at it, but I think the experience is going to help us in a big way there.”
Not every face is familiar to Wommack and the defense.
The Hoosiers had to replace two positional coaches when defensive line coach Mark Hagen left to take a job at Texas and Kasey Teegardin was moved from coaching the safeties to the special teams coordinator.
IU hired Jason Jones to replace Teegardin and Kevin Peoples is the new defensive line coach.
But even in his new coaches, Wommack can take comfort in some degree of familiarity.
“Jason has been in this system before. He was with us for five years at Ole Miss under my dad (Dave Wommack),” Wommack said. “So, running the same things. Then Jason and I kept in good contact since I left Ole Miss for Eastern Illinois. We’ve just kind of stayed up with one another. We’ve always just been close.”
Wommack doesn’t have an extensive background with Peoples, but philosophically the two are on the same page.
“I think that piece is helpful and then a guy like Kevin Peoples, him and I are just fundamentally aligned in how we envision D-Line play,” Wommack said.
While most of his key contributors return in 2020, Wommack will of course be calling on some new faces to step up and be ready.
And that is his biggest challenge right now.
“You look at guys like D.K. Bonhomme and Josh Sanguinetti, to name a few others, obviously C.J. Person and a number of guys along the defensive line, young players that played in sparing roles a year ago but are probably going to have a more central role involved in our defense moving forward, those are the guys that we’re spending probably the most time with,” Wommack said.
The players are not in Bloomington. So for now all of that is being done via virtual instruction, over the phone, or on the computer.
For the coaches, in some cases it is a little bit of a different story.
They are still confined to their homes like the rest of us of course. But they take walks, and perhaps draw up a few plays in the dirt.
That’s what Wommack and offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan have been doing.
“It’s been fun even in this time to just bounce ideas off of each other,” Wommack said. “He (Sheridan) lives about a couple blocks from me so we pass each other on the street when we’re going for walks and we have greats talks about what we envision this team doing moving forward.”
With most of his defensive production back, Wommack’s vision for the future of his defense, even if imagined while walking the streets of his neighborhood, is a little easier to grasp than it is for most.
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