Like every team, Indiana has a base defense — the 4-2-5 Tom Allen brought with him when he became defensive coordinator in 2016.
And as we’ve learned through the years with Allen, the base is just that, and the real magic happens with the multiple looks Indiana will plug into the gameplan depending on the opponent.
Versatile players are at the foundation of the various tactics Allen wants to tinker with each week. By now you have likely grown accustomed to some new position names in his defensive philosophy, hybrid positions that best illustrate the versatility. The hybrid safety/linebacker husky position Marcelino McCrary-Ball has played since Allen arrived is one example.
Last year Allen and his defensive coordinator Kane Wommack introduced the bull position — a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role that has become more of a staple in 2021. We also saw players who seemingly don’t fit the description of a position plugged in, such as Tiawan Mullen playing the husky spot, or as he prefers, the nickel, despite his non-safety/linebacker frame.
On Saturday we learned that under the right circumstances, even the base 4-2-5 isn’t always the base. Matched up against Iowa’s big, physical line and run-oriented scheme, the Hoosiers often went with a 4-3 approach with three linebackers on the field.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Charlton Warren, you can expect to see a lot of different looks from Indiana’s defense in 2021.
“We are a matchup defense, so as it goes, they get big, we get big, they get fast, we get fast,” Warren said on Monday. … “In the end we want to put the best 11 on the field to fit the situation.”
The takeaway from Saturday’s game and Warren’s comments is that we shouldn’t expect a lot of the same concepts from week-to-week. The defensive staff is going to watch film and come up with a unique game plan that fits each opponent. That isn’t necessarily groundbreaking when it comes to football, but Indiana thrived in 2020 from being unpredictable, and if Saturday was any indication, that won’t change this year, with new wrinkles rolled-out as we go.
There were added complexities for Warren in week one. He had never seen his players in true live action, and he had some key players either in new positions and/or returning from injuries that cost them the entire 2020 campaign.
“Being a first game, not quite knowing what you’re going to get, guys like Lino (Marcelino McCrary-Ball) coming back from injury, you want to make sure you have a game plan that can be utilized throughout a game that is not based on one player, so I think as the year rocks along and teams do certain things, you’ll see us be a matchup unit, but we’re going to find creative ways and good ways to get our best 11 players on the field,” Warren said.
ANDERSON AND KRAMER IMPRESS ALLEN
Indiana picked up transfers from a number of high profile programs during the offseason including Michigan, Florida State, Auburn and Texas A&M. Hailing from Northern Illinois, defensive tackle Weston Kramer’s transfer to IU generated much less fanfare, but early on in fall camp it became apparent to Allen that they had something special in the Naperville, Ill. product.
“I thought Weston Kramer — I actually mentioned him to our whole team yesterday because of how hard he plays,” Allen said on Monday.
The superlatives when it comes to Kramer’s motor were flying around the practice field in August, and his team co-leading seven tackles at Iowa were just an extension of what his head coach has witnessed over the last month. And the being directed towards Kramer is eye-catching when considering Allen has been coaching for 30 years.
“I mean, just his effort. he’s that way every single day” Allen continued. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a kid at this level practice as hard as he does every single day. To me, that’s infectious, it’s contagious, and I love it, and I want it to infiltrate everybody. It’s not that we didn’t play hard. I’m just saying, that kid takes to it another level. He’s not a massively big guy (6-foot-2, 290 pounds), but he has a massively big motor, and that’s an awesome, awesome thing because he controls that. That’s what makes that so powerful because sometimes — he can’t control how tall he is, but he can control how hard he goes.”
Kramer was tied for the most tackles with fellow transfer Ryder Anderson. The Ole Miss product’s decision to come to IU was a bit more high profile, but like Kramer, Allen saw on Saturday what he has seen on the practice field from the 6-foot-6 and 266 pound defensive end. In Anderson’s case, the high-level play goes back to the spring.
“He was the defensive MVP of us for our defense in the spring, and we saw a lot of those same things out of him,” Allen said of Anderson, who had seven tackles including five solo. “He also brings a lot of leadership to that room. … “He’s a big guy and he’s physically strong and he moves well. but he’s also got maturity to him. So he backed it up with his play, which is what I expected him to do, and just want other guys to follow suit.”
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