Written by Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
The Indiana Hoosiers wrap up spring practice on Friday evening as they hold their annual Cream and Crimson Game in Memorial Stadium. Yesterday we looked at the offensive side of the ball and today we turn our attention to the defense.
One of the most obvious things that can be observed when watching practice is the speed of the defense. The work in the off-season and another year in the defense has allowed the defense to stop thinking and just play. The secondary leads the way in the category.
IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack believes “that's what we're seeing right now. We've done a good job of recruiting players, developing players, and now I think, it's myself and the rest of the defensive staff, that's our responsibility to build a system, right, to build on top of the system that we already have and just keep things clean so that they can play confident and fast."
Getting takeaways has been a theme since Tom Allen has taken over the IU defense in 2016 and that emphasis hasn’t changed. The Hoosiers took the ball away from opponents 26 times last season. There is a lot of luck involved in gaining takeaways and usually when a team has a record-high in takeaways those number fall back a little. IU will be trying to get make their own luck by flying to the ball and creating fumbles and tipped passes. As Tom Allen and the defensive staff say almost every practice. “a tipped ball is a picked ball” and you know that coach Allen will want to reach his goal of three takeaways Friday night.
One of the biggest questions facing the Hoosiers this spring has been the depth along the defensive line. So far this spring, the defensive line has acquitted themselves nicely. Despite some absences due to injury, underclassmen like Michael Ziemba, Madison Norris, James Head and Jonathan King have given glimpses of the young talent that can step up into bigger roles on the edge.
In the middle of the defense, all eyes will be on Juan Harris as he is back for his second go-a-round in Bloomington. Harris looks much more fit than he was as a freshman. That is great news, seeing that Harris may be the biggest key to how successful this defense can be. Both he and Jerome Johnson could become as formidable of a tandem at tackle as IU has had in a long time. If they can be successful, it will allow some of the freshmen, who arrive in June, to develop and play later in the season.
Versatility on Defense
There are many moving parts in the defense as many of the players can play multiple positions. Fans should expect to see some experimentation where the coaching staff is trying to get as many of their best defenders on the field at the same time.
Cam Jones has been one of those players to bounce between positions. He started the spring working at safety and finished at Stinger (linebacker). Wommack took us inside his justification of these moves by saying, “I think it's my responsibility as a coach, right, to take the athletes that we have and utilize their full skillset. So, if I just make Cam Jones a one-dimensional linebacker, or he's a cover-two safety and that's all he does, I'm not utilizing that kid's full skillset, and we brought him here to showcase what he can do - help us and help him. So, it's my responsibility as the play-caller to be able to utilize his full skillset.”
The word that has been thrown around much of the spring when talking about the defense has been ‘swag’. Indiana’s defense has been the more energetic of the two sides of the ball. For the majority of the practices I was able to watch, once they seized momentum there was no looking back as a sack or a takeaway turned into four or five big plays in a row. Defensive coaches want their players to play with swag and a sense of confidence. Earlier this week Kane Wommack said, that joy would be considered when deciding which defense to call.
“We implemented the Marie Kondo Method. We're keeping things, and if it doesn't spark joy, we don't call it. So now we're just keeping things efficient and simple, and our guys are playing really fast because of it."