Written By Alex Compton (@Alexncompton)
In his first full recruiting cycle as head coach of the Hoosiers, Tom Allen put together one of the best classes in recent years. He landed the nation’s 48th best recruiting class, which was the best since the 2013 class that was ranked 42nd and featured the heralded trio of Indianapolis four-stars in Darius Latham, Antonio Allen, and David Kenney. Since that 2013 group, former head coach Kevin Wilson really struggled to lock down some of the top talent in the state and build pipelines elsewhere. Tom Allen fixed that in year one by landing three of the best players in the state, including Mr. Football Reese Taylor, and by setting up pipelines in Illinois, Tennessee, and Florida, which gave IU a total of 16 players out of a 26 man class. Allen has a clear plan in place now for future classes, and by placing most of his emphasis on Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, and Florida, he was able to land 19 players that helped give IU one of its better classes in the past two decades. Despite landing a very, very solid recruiting class full of impact players this year, Tom Allen was not done.
Historically, Indiana has been fairly quiet in the graduate transfer market, which has both positive and negative ramifications. Being able to keep a scholarship open to recruit a potential four or five year player has so much value, as does rewarding a walk-on player for all of their hard work by granting them a scholarship. On the other hand, plugging holes with seasoned football players that are ready to win games right away can pay off massively, and that is why so many teams have started to focus more and more attention on bringing these types of transfers in. Junior college players have found great success in Bloomington, most recently Richard Lagow and Ian Thomas, but grad transfers just have not really made their way into the program since it became more and more common for players to exhaust their remaining eligibility elsewhere. Apparently nobody told Coach Allen, as he was as aggressive as any Hoosier football Coach we’ve seen out on the transfer market this offseason, and was able to bring three potential starters to Bloomington for the 2018 season. First up, a former Under Armour All-American that looks primed to dominate again.
Nick Linder, Center
Prior School: University of Miami (FL)
Career Stats: 31 games, 25 starts at both left guard and center
Coach Allen’s Take: “Nick Linder had a very strong career at Miami and we are excited to welcome him to our football program. He will be completing his master's degree through the Kelley School of Business and he will be an important addition to our football team."
My Take: After battling a shoulder injury that cost him his starting spot, Linder sat out the 2017 season for the Hurricanes as he explored other options. He had his eyes on the Indiana program for a long time, and ultimately made the decision that IU offered him his best opportunity for his last season of college football. When healthy, Linder is a dominant interior presence that will be able to handle pass rushers as well as linebackers on the second level in IU’s zone running scheme. Some nagging injuries kept him out of the spring game, but Linder was running with the first team offense heavily during camp, and will likely work in with that unit more as summer camp really gets going. His impact as a fifth-year player was evident immediately in spring ball, as he began competing with and offering advice to some really young guys up front. Hunter Littlejohn was mildly effective last year in 12 starts at center in his redshirt sophomore season, and Harry Crider was good at times as well in his true freshman season. Despite decent play from the center position, both of those guys could really use a year of seasoning (Crider especially), so the addition of Linder is massive. More than anything, he offers you more flexibility up front, as injury or fatigue can be handled much better now than it could have been prior to his addition. Last year’s line was constantly shifting due to both fatigue and injury, so adding in another impact player to a line that returns every contributor from last year can only help. I do believe Linder will end up starting at center when the season opener rolls around, but the key with him is health. Littlejohn’s development should speed up now that he gets to learn from a veteran like Linder, but on an inexperienced offensive line, having a healthy Linder in there during those big moments should really help the offense.
Kayton Samuels, Defensive Tackle
Prior School: Syracuse
Career Stats: 34 games, 44 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery
His Take: "Indiana's atmosphere absolutely amazed me. Coach Allen is a proven winner and the opportunity to play in the Big Ten fires me up. I am honored to earn a degree from Syracuse University and looking forward to earning my master's degree from Indiana University."
Coach Allen’s Take: "Kayton is a big body in the middle who immediately shores up our defense. He brings a lot of experience with his 24 starts in the ACC. We are pleased to welcome him into our program."
My Take: Tom Allen giving Mark Hagen another weapon is a no-brainer. Kayton Samuels is an immediate plug-and-play run stopper that is fired up to play Big Ten football, and those two things alone should make him a great pickup. After being flagged as one of the potential weak position groups on the team before last season started, the D-Line responded in a big way over 12 games and helped anchor another very strong Indiana defense. Jacob Robinson, Jerome Johnson, Ja’merez Bowen and Mike Barwick Jr. all played very well in the middle for Indiana, but there was a severe lack of depth behind those guys last season. Games in which IU struggled to get off of the field were generally ones in which they had little to no answer for opposing run games, and much of that was due to tired bodies up front on defense. There are some young players that will have the opportunity to step up and contribute on the interior this season, but Samuels is a known commodity that will produce week in and week out even if he doesn’t start. His strengths are in stopping the run, and that is exactly the type of guy Indiana needed to add into the D-Line room this year. While this pickup may be more under the radar, Samuels should make his name known soon enough during his lone season in Bloomington.
Brandon Dawkins, Quarterback
Prior School: Arizona
Career Stats: 22 games, 188/334 passing (56.3%), 15 TD/ 12 INT, 232 rushes for 1582 yards (6.8 YPC), 20 TD
His Take: "I'm fired up to get out to Bloomington, join my new family and get to work. To not be taking part in spring ball right now and going to IU and seeing the guys competing, it got me excited. I see myself doing great with this team. I'm ready to be a Hoosier and to get to work with Coach Allen, Coach DeBord and Coach Sheridan."
Coach Allen’s Take: "We are very excited to add Brandon Dawkins to our football family. He brings leadership and experience to our team. Brandon is coming to Indiana to compete to be our starting quarterback."
My Take: Quite possibly the biggest “get” of the three, Brandon Dawkins shores up a quarterback room that was going to be reliant solely on a true freshman and and a redshirt sophomore this season. While Peyton Ramsey looked serviceable for much of his game action last season, it was clear that he needed some more time before you could really open up a whole playbook to him in the Big Ten. Additionally, while Mike Penix Jr. has been better than advertised as an early-enrollee so far through spring camp, playing quarterback as a true freshman in the Big Ten is a very tall order. The starting job is still up for grabs according to Coach Allen, and it absolutely should be. Dawkins hasn’t seen true game action since last September before he went down with an injury, and he has an entire new system to learn.
Peyton Ramsey is a gutsy, team-first guy that played well last year in very tough situations and is hungry to compete. Mike Penix Jr. is a fireballer that can really open up the field vertically and move the sticks with his legs, and came to IU for chance to play right away. Despite the strengths of both Ramsey and Penix Jr. I do still think it’s Dawkins’ job to lose. He was the starting QB for a wildly successful Arizona offense before getting hurt and losing his job to a 2018 Heisman Trophy frontrunner in Khalil Tate, and has more games under his belt than the rest of the quarterback room combined.
He excels at working the ball over the middle of the field and at getting the ball out of his hand quickly, and both of those things are huge points of emphasis for Mike DeBord’s offense. Furthermore, Dawkins can flat out run with the football. He is a threat to take it the distance every time he takes off, and that alone is enough to really open up opposing defenses. His combination of experience and skills will make him one of the more exciting guys to watch this year, and I do expect to be watching him as the starting quarterback. There is a long way to go before the season kicks off, but a solid summer camp should cement him as QB1 heading into the 2018 campaign.
For a program that hasn’t really gone after graduate transfers historically, this class is one that hopefully bucks that trend for good. The opportunities were there for Coach Allen and his staff to plug some holes with experienced, impact players, and that is exactly what they did. Not only did IU bring in guys that will see snaps in their last year of eligibility, they brought in three potential starters. Nick Linder and Kayton Samuels bring much needed depth up front on offense and defense respectively, while Brandon Dawkins slides in to a wide open quarterback competition with much-needed game experience. Getting them to Bloomington was the easy part, now it is up to Tom Allen to get the most out of these three players in their final seasons.
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