Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Spring Expectations – Cornerback and Safety
I wrote extensively on the position battle that will take place at cornerback when the Hoosiers kick off Spring practice later this March. For a more detailed look at that position, please take a look at this piece….are you back? You don’t have time you say? Well, since I’m so nice, here’s a quick recap:
-Indiana is attempting to replace Michael Hunter Jr. and Tim Bennett. There’s a lot of talent returning (and coming in) but a lack of experience creates a lot of question marks at a position the Hoosiers historically struggle at.
-Rashard Fant is expected to start at one corner. Fant saw some playing time last season and was impressive in coverage. The biggest drawback is his size and he could struggle against big target receivers.
-Kenny Mullen returns from a knee injury and he has the inside track to be the go-to slot corner. Mullen has excelled in that position in the past and his experience could be a benefit in a secondary that figures to be rather young.
-So, what about the other outside corner position? There are several candidates: Donovan Clark, Noel Padmore and Laray Smith are the most likely returning candidates and they will battle in the Spring for a leg-up moving into Fall camp. Tyler Green is the incoming recruit that appears most likely to crack through that group and see snaps at corner as a Freshman. His size (6’3”) is a huge bonus, particularly when you consider Fant’s height.
-What do I expect? Thanks for asking! I expect for Fant and Clark to emerge from the Spring as the starters heading into Fall practices. I think Mullen will be the slot corner and I expect Padmore and Smith to be a part of the rotation. I also think we’ll Tyler Green push Clark for a starting position and that by the time the B1G season starts we’ll see Green starting next to Fant.
The Returning Starters
Alright, time to move on to the safety position. There is far more certainty here than there is at corner because the Hoosiers return two talented guys that saw a lot of playing time last season (and were playing their best ball when the season ended). Antonio Allen (JR from Indianapolis, IN) and Chase Dutra (RS-SO from Brownsburg, IN) appear to be locked in as the starting safeties. Mark Murphy and Dutra split time last season next to Allen. However, Murphy graduated (and his leadership will be missed by this defense) and Dutra figures to be a full-time starter this season. Allen is a hard-hitting safety that led the Hoosiers in tackles last season and is excellent in run support. I think the IU coaches will be looking for some improvement in coverage skills from Allen and an increased ability to create some turnovers (through forced fumbles or interceptions) out of their impact safety. Dutra is a tremendous athlete that has pretty good length and covers the field well as a free safety. He showed good closing instincts last season and I feel pretty good about a season with Allen and Dutra manning the safety positions.
Plenty of Returning Depth
While Dutra and Allen appear to be the starters, there are some candidates that will push them and some intriguing young players that add depth and look like good pieces moving forward. Kiante Walton (SO from Columbus, GA) played in all 12 games as a freshman and contributed 8 tackles. Tony Fields (SO from Tallahassee, FL) also appeared in all 12 games as a freshman and posted 14 tackles and a pass breakup in his debut season. In addition, Will Dawkins (RS-FR from Vero Beach, FL) and Zeke Walker (RS-FR from Columbia, SC) are both coming off of redshirt seasons and are expected to be factors in the future.
Expectations and Questions
As I wrote earlier, Antonio Allen and Chase Dutra certainly look surefire starters at safety. I think Kiante Walton and Tony Fields are the back-ups heading into the Spring while Will Dawkins and Zeke Walker will battle for spots in the rotation. I expect Allen and Dutra to hold onto those starting spots (and play very well) all season and I expect Walton and Fields to see playing time each week. However, there are some things to watch at this position in the Spring.
· Are Dutra and Allen as locked in as I think they are?
· Can Walton and/or Fields build on solid Freshman seasons and step into larger roles than expected?
· We don’t know much about Dawkins or Walker, will they be more of a factor than I am currently anticipating?
· Mark Murphy was an extremely intelligent player that did a lot of good things for IU football (on and off the field). Can Allen or Dutra fill the leadership void that Murphy’s graduation created?