Spring Preview- The Hoosier Secondary Has the Talent, Now They Need Efficiency

Marcelino Ball is one of the elder statesmen in the IU secondary  Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Marcelino Ball is one of the elder statesmen in the IU secondary Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Written by Evan McShane (@veryreasonable)

While the efficiency numbers were not great, the Indiana defense boasted a respectable secondary in 2019. The Hoosiers thrived off of creating turnovers. Indiana tied for 33rd in the country with 13 team interceptions and they tied for fifth in the country in fumble recoveries with 13. With the departure of Hoosier safety Jonathan Crawford, Indiana has big shoes to fill. Luckily, there are a number of players capable of stepping up to the plate. IU's secondary will still be young next fall, but they will have the luxury of depth. Heading into spring, the IU defensive backs appears to be one of the most talented position groups on the roster. Indiana will return several starters from last year, and Tom Allen and his staff have recruited cornerbacks and safeties very well the past few years. While it is yet to be seen which individuals will produce most, the secondary will be among Indiana's strongest units in 2019.

Andre Brown – Senior – 6’0”/200lbs

Perhaps the most experienced defensive back on the roster, Andre Brown has started 29-of-32 career games at cornerback. Last season, Brown started in every game, racking up 29 tackles and a team-high six pass breakups. Brown was named Indiana’s Defensive Player of the Week against Michigan. For the third straight season Brown earned Academic All-Big Ten Honors. “Yes, that's one of the things I've been focused on this whole off-season,” Brown recently told Peegs.com. “Just talking to the guys, making sure everybody's on time to workouts, (making sure) everybody's going hard every day.”

Brown is poised for a stellar senior season after two consistent years starting at cornerback. Strength and conditioning guru David Ballou remarked on Brown’s successes in the weight room. “Andre is a completely different kid from when I came here a year ago,” Ballou said. “A complete 180. Andre's unbelievable. His work ethic, the way he approaches his business on the day to day.” Ballou elaborated on Brown’s eagerness to improve, “He's the first dude in the building when we have our 6 am runs. He's in there at 5:10, 5:15. He's the first guy in the indoor, ready to roll. He's the first guy in for his lift group. he's ready to go.” Having a senior like Brown leading by example on a daily basis will pay dividends for Tom Allen and Indiana football. Andre Brown is ready to finish his college football career on a high note.  

A’Shon Riggins – Senior – 6’0”/208lbs 

The other veteran leader in the Hoosier secondary is senior A’Shon Riggins. The Ohio native started five games at cornerback last season and appeared in 11 of Indiana’s 12 games. Riggins was tied for second on the team with three pass breakups. He also racked up 20 tackles, included 15 solo stops and eight games with multiple tackles. After having his sophomore campaign cut short by injury, Riggins stormed back in 2018 to restore the promise he showed as a freshman. Now, Riggins is set to emerge as a senior leader on defense.

Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Like Brown, Riggins is also benefitting from a second year under IU’s strength and conditioning team comprised of David Ballou and Dr. Matthew Rhea. Riggins, with a solid frame to begin with, has bulked up since Ballou and Rhea arrived on campus. Heading into spring practice, Brown and Riggins are the favorites to own the two starting cornerback spots. As a unit, this Hoosier secondary hopes to see even more growth in its third season under Tom Allen’s direction. Now in his final college football season, A’Shon Riggins looks to make his mark on Indiana football.       

Raheem Layne – Junior – 6’1”/195lbs

After claiming IU’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year Award in 2017 as a freshman, Raheem Layne built on his early success as a sophomore. In 2018, Layne started in seven games and played in 12 at cornerback for the Hoosiers. He amassed 39 tackles (4th on the team), three pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Layne was awarded defensive player of the week two times and special teams player of the week once. This production came after a freshman season in which Layne played in all 12 games. Layne’s emergence as a major contributor last year proved vital to the success of the defense. In 2019, Layne will be counted on once again. The Hoosiers secondary should be very deep and, of course, the players will push each other to reach their highest level. That said, Raheem Layne could very well find himself as the leader of the cornerback unit. If Layne can make a leap comparable to the one he made in between his freshman and sophomore seasons, the sky is the limit.  

Jaylin Williams – Sophomore – 6’0”/179lbs

Almost assuredly the fastest player on the roster, Jaylin Williams will hope to build on an encouraging freshman season. Although Williams made plenty of rookie mistakes, he played in all 12 games and racked up 22 tackles, an interception and two pass breakups. Williams is a naturally gifted athlete with truly impressive speed and at 6-foot, 179lbs, he has the size to be an impact player at the collegiate level. The next step in his game will be working on technique and consistency. As Williams becomes a more mature and intelligent player, he has a chance to be a special player for the Hoosiers. 2019 will be all about improvement. Jaylin Williams has serious potential and it will be fun to watch him grow up on the field.  

Noah Pierre – Redshirt Freshman – 5’11”/173lbs 

A Florida native, Noah Pierre was able to take advantage of the new redshirt rules. Pierre saw playing time in the Old Oaken Bucket game, but he was able to retain redshirt status. With four years of eligibility remaining, Pierre will compete for consistent playing time and hopes to be a major contributor to a deep secondary. The young cornerback has been taking advantage of the strength program to prepare himself for the rigors of the Big Ten. Will Pierre emerge as key factor at cornerback in 2019?

Larry Tracy – Freshman – 5’11”/185lbs

One of several talented home-state recruits, Larry Tracy brings his skills to Bloomington by way of Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis. The electric cornerback committed to the Hoosiers over offers from Iowa, Purdue, Cincinnati, Minnesota and others. As a senior in high school, the 5-foot-10, 175lb Tracy logged 64 tackles, 14 passes defended, nine tackles for loss, six fumble recoveries, three sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception and a blocked field goal. Tracy was ranked as the 12th best player in the state of Indiana and the 78th best cornerback in the country, per 247Sports.  

Tracy is already on campus at IU. While gearing up for spring practice, he claims to have already bulked up his frame. “Over the weekend I went home and saw my family a little bit because I haven’t been home in a while, and the first thing my dad said was, ‘Wow, you put a little bit of muscle on.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’” When asked if he plans to work himself into the cornerback rotation, Tracy responded, “Definitely. That’s my goal.” Tracy continued, “That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here early, so I could learn the playbook and be ahead of the other guys that are coming in, or to be able to show that I have a knack to be able to play the game and be able to play early. Whether at cornerback, special teams, or on the practice squad, Larry Tracy will make a positive impact on Indiana football.  

Marcelino Ball – Redshirt Junior – 6’0”/222lbs

One could make the argument that Marcelino Ball is among the most talented players on Indiana’s roster. An honorable mention for All-Big Ten last year, Ball finished 3rd on the team in tackles with 59. He also recorded 2.5 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, and three pass breakups. Primarily playing at husky, Ball is one of the more valuable Hoosier defenders. Ball missed most of his sophomore season due to injury and he received a medical redshirt. In 2018, Ball played in every game and looked like his old self. Now a redshirt junior, Ball will look to build on the success he had as an underclassman. Ball will need to be a leader on and off the field for this Indiana defense. The Hoosiers will be counting on a strong performance from Marcelino Ball in 2019.  

Kahlil Bryant – Senior – 5’10”/202lbs

Another senior leader, Kahlil Bryant will look to fill the void from Jonathan Crawford’s departure at safety. Last year as a junior, the Florida native started in nine games for the Hoosiers, recording 38 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble. Bryant earned himself an Academic All-Big Ten selection. Bryant’s junior season saw him grow from a player with limited production to a primary contributor. Bryant will be expected to emerge as a leader of the secondary. Indiana has a young group of defensive backs and experience will be at a premium. Now in his final college season, Kahili Bryant looks to finish his career on top.

Bryant Fitzgerald – Redshirt Sophomore – 6’0”/214lbs

The team leader in interceptions with three, Bryant Fitzgerald made a splash early on in his career. From Avon High School in Indianapolis, Fitzgerald played in every game as a redshirt freshman. He tallied 31 tackles, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Fitzgerald was often in the right place at the right time. On four occasions, Fitzgerald was Indiana’s starting free safety. He also saw time at husky and on special teams. He will have ample opportunity to earn the starting free safety job in 2019. Fitzgerald knows IU strength coach David Ballou from his days at Avon.

Ballou had nothing but praise for the young defensive back.  “Love the kid,” Ballou told Peegs.com about Fitzgerald, “He's an explosive athlete, who's very coachable. You can coach Fitz and he's a very coachable kid. You can push him, you can challenge him. I know him really well, so I know how to challenge him. He responds to it. But he's another kid that has the exact right mindset, what you need to go win in this conference year after year after year. The way you approach things, the way you set expectations and everything. he expects himself to do big things, and he's going to because he's blessed genetically.” Bryant will look to further develop as an impact player on the Indiana defense.

Juwan Burgess – Redshirt Sophomore – 6’1”/191lbs

The multi-talented athlete from Tampa, Florida made his presence felt last year as a redshirt freshman. Juwan Burgess was a top-300 recruit coming out of high school per ESPN. He redshirted in 2017 and saw playing time in all 12 games last season. Burgess posted 25 tackles, a fumble recovery, and a pass breakup. Primarily serving as Jonathan Crawford’s backup last year, Burgess will vie for a starting spot in 2019. Whether in a reserve role or as the go-to starter, Juwan Burgess looks to make the most of his opportunity with the Hoosiers.  

Devon Matthews – Sophomore – 6’2”206lbs

Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Devin Matthews came to Bloomington last season as one of the highest rated recruits in IU’s 2018 class. Matthews proved his worth right off the bat, playing in 10 games, tallying 20 tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery, and a pass breakup. The Jacksonville, Florida product is probably the tallest defensive back on Indiana’s roster. Matthews uses his size to his advantage as a punishing safety. Early indications are that Matthews will be a favorite to takeover the starting position previously held by Jonathan Crawford. Matthews has the ability to be a big time playmaker for the Hoosier defense.  

Jamar Johnson – Sophomore – 6’1”/200lbs 

Playing in 10 games at safety and on special teams as a freshman, Jamar Johnson showed some promising signs last year. The Florida native recorded his first interception early in the year in a win against Rutgers. He was recognized as Indiana’s special teams player of the week against Ohio State. Johnson provides Indiana’s defense with another versatile option. He can player both safety spots, cornerback, or husky. He will likely be used in all phases of the defense and special teams. Indiana will prioritize keeping fresh bodies on the field. Jamar Johnson is a key cog in the wheel of Indiana’s defense. As a sophomore in 2019, Johnson hopes to have a breakout season.  

Jordan Jusevitch – Redshirt Freshman – 6’1”/206lbs

The Northwest Indiana native, Jordan Jusevitch, comes to Bloomington from Lowell High School. One of three Indiana Mr. Football Finalists, Jusevitch had a prolific high school football career in which his team won two regional championships. Jusevitch was the first commit of the 2018 recruiting class and he has four years of eligibility remaining after he was able to retain redshirt status his first year on campus. Tom Allen and his staff have loaded this roster up with in-state prospects. As a redshirt freshman, Jusevitch will be competing amongst a talented young group for playing time in 2019. Jusevitch hopes to make an impact in the secondary or on special teams. 

Samuel Slusher – Redshirt Sophomore – 6’0”/190lbs 

Slusher, from Greensburgh, Indiana, made an appearance in three games last season on special teams. Slusher was named scout team player of the week on four occasions: once on special teams and three times on defense. A walk-on in 2017, Slusher will look to increase his role on Indiana’s defense as a redshirt sophomore in 2018.

Jeremy Boyd – Redshirt Sophomore – 5’9”/182lbs

Jeremy Boyd joined the Hoosier football team as a walk-on in 2017. After redshirting his freshman year, the Indianapolis native and Ben Davis High School graduate made his mark on the practice squad. Boyd earned scout team honors of the week on two occasions: once on defense and once on special teams. As a redshirt sophomore, Boyd will work to crack the rotation in IU’s secondary and continue to be an essential part of Indiana’s scout team. 

Cam Wilson – Redshirt Sophomore – 6’1”/185lbs

After serving one redshirt season at Illinois State University, Wilson joined the Indiana football program as a walk-on in 2018. Although he did not see game action, Wilson was named scout team player of the week on special teams. Wilson, a Columbus, Indiana native, will try to seize an opportunity to see the field on Saturdays.

Joseph Daniels Jr. – Sophomore – 5’8”/202lbs

Joseph Daniels Jr. joined the IU football program as a walk-on during fall camp last season. The cornerback from Roswell High School in Georgia earned scout team player of the week honors in preparation for the Rutgers game. Daniels will look to play a bigger role as a sophomore in 2019.   

Will Allen – Sophomore – 5’11”/175lbs

Will Allen joined the IU football program as a walk-on last season and redshirted. The Naperville, Illinois native comes to Bloomington by way of Neuqua Valley High School where he accumulated 270 tackles and helped lead his team to a 2017 conference championship.