Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Welcome to Hoosier Huddle's coverage of Indiana's 2018 Spring Practice. Every day we will look at a position group or a position battle. IU kicks off spring practice March 3rd and will hold their annual spring game on April 14th at noon at Memorial Stadium. So sit back and enjoy as we take you through a very young, but talented IUFB roster.
After multiple years of writing Rashard Fant’s name in ink at one defensive back position, the Indiana Hoosiers enter the 2018 season without a “sure thing” at either corner spot. That being said, there are a number very talented options that will be battling throughout the Spring and into Fall camp for the right to see the field and it’s reasonable to say that this is the most athletic and talented defensive backfield the Indiana Hoosiers have had in quite some time. Today, we preview the cornerback position and whether or not that athleticism and raw ability can transfer to top-notch coverage against some potentially explosive passing attacks during the 2018 season.
One (Likely) Starter: Andre Brown
While nothing is guaranteed, if I were picking the most likely player to emerge as a starter (which I am), it would be redshirt junior Andre Brown. Originally from Decatur, Georgia, Brown came to Indiana and started eight times during the 2015 season as a true freshman. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury and missed the end of the season. A back injury kept him out of the entire 2016 season and he seemed to be usurped by A’Shon Riggins. However, Brown returned healthy and looking like a much better player in 2017 and he started ten times during the season. He recorded 33 tackles, three for loss, forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown (against Georgia Southern). Brown is a steady player that measures 6’0”. While that’s not ideal size for a defensive back, it’s not a liability and I think his game experience is a real positive for what will be a young defense. The coaching staff has trusted him before and I see no reason why that won’t continue into the 2018 season.
The Hoosiers return a few veterans with playing experience and each of them figures to be a part of the defensive back rotation. I don’t expect any of these guys to start but improvement from any one of them could result in a starting nod next to Andre Brown. A’Shon Riggins is an interesting player. The junior from Ohio started eight games as a true freshman and was named a BTN.com All-Freshman honoree. He was the presumed second starter behind Fant entering the 2017 season but he only ended up appearing in six games and starting three times as Andre Brown re-emerged. He appeared to be passed by Brown and talented freshman Raheem Layne. That being said, we’ve seen Riggins excel before and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him work his way back into the lineup in 2018. I don’t see him starting but could he be a rotation piece? No doubt. Former Carmel High School star Isaac James has been unable to find a “home” in terms of position and his contributions have been limited during his time at IU. After a stint at wide receiver, the coaching staff moved James to defensive back during the 2017 season and he ended up appearing in 12 games, mostly as a special teams contributor. With a full offseason of work at corner, can James work his way into the rotation?
Roster Note: Tom Allen announced Thursday that Tyler Green will be transferring out of the program.
One of the players I was most impressed with from a purely physical standpoint during the 2017 season was freshman Raheem Layne. The 6’1” well-built corner from Florida was named IU’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year after appearing in all 12 games and recording 13 tackles and started against Rutgers. Layne’s size and strength makes him an intriguing prospect. Add in his speed and he is a legitimate number one corner in the Big Ten once he gets some seasoning. I expect Layne to win the starting job and it would not be a shock to see him lock down a starting role for 30+ games during his Hoosier career. Another talented Class of 2017 corner is LaDamion Hunt. The sophomore from Georgia is not as physically imposing as Layne but he’s lightning-quick and showed impressive coverage and playmaking ability during his high school career. Hunt appeared in seven games in 2017, mainly on special teams, and I expect him to be a rotation piece in 2018.
The Hoosiers added a trio of players in the 2018 recruiting class that are likely to play cornerback in Bloomington. The best of the bunch appears to be Jaylin Williams. The high three-star recruit from Germantown, Tennessee was a huge get for the staff and it’s not an understatement to say he will be one of the more athletic players on the roster the moment he steps on campus. How quickly he makes an impact on several things: the progress of the current Hoosiers during the spring, how well Williams adds weight and adjusts to college weight training and conditioning when he gets on campus and the trust level the IU coaches have in him after seeing him in practice. That being said, I think he’ll be a special teams contributor from day one and have a real shot to have a role similar to Raheem Layne’s in 2017. Elijah Rodgers, a 6’1” prospect from South Carolina, is the most physically ready of the three and his length is an asset. He’s likely to redshirt but if there’s an injury to someone like Tyler Green, the Hoosiers could need his size in the rotation. The final addition to the class was Noah Pierre, an athlete from Florida that was a surprise signing. He’s an explosive athlete that packs a punch on the field. It seems likely he’ll redshirt in 2018.
Keep coming back to Hoosier Huddle for daily coverage throughout the Spring!
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