Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
The Indiana Hoosiers lost a pair of safeties that played a lot of football in Chase Dutra and Tony Fields so there is a bit of re-tooling at the back end of the defense. However, there’s plenty of talent and a returning star to anchor things.
The Starter and Leader – Jonathan Crawford – 6’2”/203 – SR – Crawford enters his senior season with a chance to start a remarkable 50 games during his career in Bloomington. He is the current program leader in tackles, pass breakups, interceptions and fumble recoveries and he is now the unquestioned leader of the secondary. I think he is a favorite to land on an All-Big Ten team and a strong season will certainly see him land in the NFL. Crawford is a play-making safety that is capable of changing games and he’s a no doubt starter at one of the safety positions. The question is, who will his starting partner be?
The Candidates – Juwan Burgess is one of the three players brought to IU from Plant High School in Tampa (Thomas Allen and Whop Philyor are the others). He redshirted the 2017 season and will be a major candidate for playing time next to Crawford. He entered IU as a very similar player to the senior and chose IU after decommitting from USC. Burgess is an exceptional athlete that had a way of making plays throughout his high school career. The main question is whether or not he can be physical enough to partner with Crawford or if it would leave the Hoosiers too small at the back and without a true strong safety.
Kahlil Bryant will also be in the mix as a junior. He has appeared in 22 games over his first two seasons with the Hoosiers. The five-foot-10 200-pound defensive back has posted 12 tackles in those 22 games.
The next couple of players that will factor in are both freshmen, but will have to wait until Fall Camp to get their shot. Tom Allen will not be scared to put them on the field if they prove to be the best people for the job so their age is not a major concern as no one else really has any FBS game experience either. Devon “Monster” Matthews is considered a 4-star prospect by 247Sports and he was a major “get” for the IU coaching staff. Matthews is only 185 pounds (when it was last reported) but he certainly has the frame to get up to 200 pounds with some help from David Ballou. He’s a classic safety that packs a real punch when he hits ball carriers. His physicality would seem to make for an ideal partnership with Crawford and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him win the job. He originally committed to South Florida before choosing to join the Hoosiers and play under Tom Allen. Add in his excellent nickname and he seems like a player Hoosier fans will want to keep an eye on.
A late addition to the Indiana roster, Jamar Johnson chose IU over Purdue, Iowa State, Virginia Tech and several others. He’s a 6’2” corner from Sarasota, Florida but he’ll be playing safety for the Hoosiers. He just joined the class but he’s a solid three-star recruit that is athletic and was very well-regarded for his play at Riverview High School. The coaching staff loves his game and was excited to land him and I think it’s likely he sees the field during the 2018 season. I don’t think he’ll be starting but I do think he’ll contribute early. Johnson is not a mid-year enrollee.
Jordan Jusevitch is discussed in the Husky section as it is unexpected he will be playing safety but he played the position in high school and has the body to contribute there if needed. Another name to potentially keep an eye on is Will Allen. The freshman is a preferred walk-on from Illinois and he was highly productive. He chose to come to IU despite multiple offers from FBS programs. There is an opportunity for some snaps, particularly if IU suffers an injury or two or if Burgess doesn’t progress the coaches had hoped.
The Hoosiers are not particularly deep at safety after the departure of Fields, Dutra and Zeke Walker and Jameel Cook but they have plenty of top-end talent. The Hoosiers are also looking to add a graduate transfer at this position. Crawford is one of the best in the Big Ten and there are a few freshmen with bright futures and high ceilings that add excitement and depth especially if Kahlil Bryant can blossom into the player everyone thought he’d be. If a couple of those players emerge, the Hoosiers will be strong at the back once again.