Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Before spring practice began, I wrote two separate articles examining the IU secondary. Prior to writing this article, I read through what I wrote in March and April and have to admit, I was comically wrong. It’s not fair to be too hard on myself because a whole lot has changed but there’s no sugarcoating it, my predictions for the season appear (at least for the moment) to be way off. Anyway, what’s done is done and it’s time to preview a very intriguing position group for the Hoosiers, the secondary (since IU is now lumping safeties and corners together, we will as well!).
We shouldn’t pretend that IU’s secondary was great last season but did make some progress and the players that left the program before the 2015 season are going to be missed. Starting corners Michael Hunter Jr. (transfer) and Tim Bennett (graduation) are both gone as is former starting safety Antonio Allen (removed from team). In addition to the starters, the Hoosiers also have to replace nickel corner Kenny Mullen. Mullen was injured against Missouri and opted to forego his final season of eligibility. Laray Smith never contributed in the secondary but he was expected to compete for some playing time in 2015 before choosing to transfer.
IU is also expecting to be without the services of Donovan Clark, a sophomore that played well as a true freshman. Clark is suffering from a back injury that has proven difficult to shake and it appears highly likely that he will take a medical redshirt for the 2015 season and look to come back at 100% in 2016.
The Returning Leader
The loss of four former starters leaves one man standing as the lone representative who started at least one game in the 2014 secondary. Chase Dutra, a redshirt sophomore from Brownsburg, Indiana, has been forced to step up as a leader of the group, both on and off the field. Dutra is a really good athlete that has pretty good length and covers the field well as a free safety. During the second half of 2014, his play improved significantly and he showed good closing instincts and playmaking ability. He’ll need to have a very strong season with a lot of new faces playing around him.
The Inexperienced Depth and Competition for Playing Time
We know Chase Dutra is starting. That leaves three spots up for grabs plus a lot of playing time and snaps that a lot of talented (but very young) Hoosiers are competing for. Rashard Fant, a 5’10” redshirt sophomore from Georgia, is the odds-on favorite to be one of the starters at cornerback. Fant saw significant playing time last season and showed flashes of the cover skills that had IU fans excited when he signed with the Hoosiers as a 4-star recruit. Fant is very quick and displayed good instincts to break plays up (five pass break-ups as a second unit player). He’s only 5’10”, so covering some of the bigger wide receivers on the schedule could be a challenge. Which corner will start opposite of Fant? Well, your guess is as good as mine. For now, I’m taking Ben Bach, a 6’1” redshirt sophomore from Wheaton, Illinois. Bach didn’t see any game action in 2014 and redshirted in 2013 after walking on to the program. He has started with the first team defense in the spring game and has apparently impressed the coaches enough to get a shot at playing time. His size is a plus, particularly next to the 170 pound Rashard Fant.
The safety opposite of Chase Dutra (the spot vacated by Antonio Allen) is looking like it will go to Tony Fields, a sophomore from Tallahassee, Florida. Fields is 5’11” and 203 pounds, nearly ideal size for a strong safety. He’s a hard hitter that showed promise in 2014, appearing in all 12 games and posting 14 tackles. The sophomore from the Sunshine State probably won’t be the impact playmaker Antonio Allen was but I think he can fill in at the position very nicely and turn into a really good player for IU.
(6’2”/205 pound sophomore from Georgia), Mario Swann (6’1”/215 redshirt sophomore and transfer from Eastern Michigan) and Jonathan Crawford (6’2”/190 pound freshman from Largo, Florida) appear to be the top candidates to get playing time behind the two starters at safety. Crawford is an intriguing athlete that drew rave reviews from Lynden Ostrander, a recruiting expert in the Largo area and he looks like a great piece for the future.
At corner, the Hoosiers will likely be trying a lot of different combinations in the first two weeks of the season as they try to find a couple of pairings that can withstand the aerial assault of Western Kentucky in Week 3. The most interesting of the early candidates that has emerged is Devonte Williams (aka “The Matrix”). Williams, a 5’10” freshman from Columbia, Maryland, is an electric athlete that is getting a shot at corner and has impressed thus far. If he can develop the defensive instincts required to play the position, his speed and athleticism will be a real asset for the secondary. Tyler Green, a lengthy 6’3” freshman from Waldorf, Maryland is another first year player that could see time for IU. Green, a former Ohio State commit, was one of the prizes of the 2015 recruiting class and his size could be a good antidote to the big targets IU will see during the season.
(5’11”/182 redshirt sophomore from Georgia), Arthur Jones (5’10”/195 redshirt sophomore from Washington D.C.), Will Dawkins (5’11”/200 redshirt freshman from Florida), Andre Brown (6’0”/194 freshman from Georgia) and Jameel Cook Jr. (6’1”/190 freshman from Texas) are the other main candidates that may see time in the 2015 secondary. This unit is going to be very, very young. There’s no way around that and it is a concern for fans and for the coaching staff. Having said that, I think the depth at the position and the overall level of speed and athleticism is higher than it has been on any secondary group in recent memory. Whether or not a group of seven or eight players can step up, become a cohesive unit and establish an adequate secondary for the Hoosiers will go a long way towards determining whether or not the Hoosiers go bowling for the first time under Kevin Wilson.