Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
When the Hoosiers take the field for the annual Cream and Crimson Game on Saturday (Closed to the Public) in the John Mellencamp Pavilion the Hoosiers have stars to replace on defense. Gone are eight starters from a year ago (Chris Covington, Chase Dutra, Rashard Fant, Tony Fields, Greg Gooch, Nate Hoff, Robert McCray and Tegray Scales) and the young Hoosier defenders will have a chance to make their claim on playing in the fall in the final practice of the spring.
Fresh Faces at Linebacker
The Hoosiers have huge shoes to fill at this position with the departure of Scales and Covington, and that starts with a pair of backers, Mo Burnam and Mike McGinnis, on Team Cream.
McGinnis is a fifth-year senior who saw limited action in 2017 after arriving from junior college. He has shown a propensity for the big play in spring ball and have created a handful of takeaways. With the youth movement on defense, it is vital to have a veteran presence in the middle of the field.
Burnam was a highly-anticipated recruit in the 2017 class, but he redshirted last season. Burnam looks the part of a Big Ten linebacker and should slide into the stinger position replacing Scales. Allen did say Burnam has been nicked up recently, so we will see if he plays in the game.
Allen has been adamant all spring that the defensive rotation needs to be expanded in order to avoid late-game and late-season break downs. Three other linebackers have a shot to throw their name into the ring.
Team Cream LB Reakwon Jones has had coaches gushing over his improvement after a seven tackle 2017 campaign. “Reakwon Jones has exceeded my expectations” Allen said after practice last week. “I’m really proud of him. I think he has made the most growth of anybody on the defense from last season to right now, and we needed him to. We sat him down and challenged him and he knew this was his time. He has been so decisive in his decision making and a great leader for us. He’s not very verbal but he has been leading with how hard he has played and I love his effort.”
Redshirt freshman and Team Crimson member Thomas Allen has also been coming on strong, coach Allen told reporters that, “he gives us tremendous size at 240 pounds and a knowledge of the defense. He knows what to do. He showed up today a few times, he made some good plays. I think more than anything it’s about continued confidence.”
Also on Team Crimson is fifth-year senior Kiante Walton (Crimson), who is looking to have a bigger role after recording just two tackles in 2017 and 17 tackles for his career.
Young Talent Rising in the Secondary
Another position who suffered major personnel losses after the 2017 season ended is the defensive backfield. However, the Hoosiers have a lot of young talent who could be ready to be the next wave on the back end. A’Shon Riggins (Crimson) and Andre Brown (Cream) have the most experience and have showed that all during the spring.
Two sophomores, Raheem Layne (Crimson) and LaDamion Hunt (Cream), have been working in behind Brown and Riggins, but will have their chance to get major playing time as in the spring game. Both played well in spot duty in 2017 and they have quickly developed into reliable depth behind Riggins and Brown.
At the safety position fans have been itching to see what redshirt freshmen Bryant Fitzgerald (Cream) and Juwan Burgess (Cream) can bring to the field behind Jonathan Crawford (Crimson) and Kahlil Bryant (Crimson).
Add in Marcelino Ball (Crimson) at husky, backed up by Isaac James (Cream), and this secondary has plenty of pieces to complete the puzzle.
Defensive Line is Under Construction, but the Pieces Look Solid
Since rejoining the Hoosier staff prior to the 2016 season defensive line coach Mark Hagen has gotten the most out of this position. Heading into the spring game he has to figure out who is going to replace three out of four starters, but fans should have all the confidence in the world that Hagen can do that well.
This unit will be boosted by the return of Nile Sykes (Crimson), the team’s best pass rusher who missed all of last year, and early enrollee James Head (Cream) who looks like he could be an upperclassman instead of a high school senior. Other players to watch along the line are Gavin Everett (Crimson), who has impressed his teammates and coaches so much he was a first round pick, Jacob Robinson (Crimson) who looks to cap off his senior season in style and Jerome Johnson (Cream) who flashed some great plays last season and Allen Stallings IV.
The Hoosiers also have some young blood along the line. Tramar Reece, LeShaun Minor and Lance Bryant are also trying to improve their standing in the depth chart and have all made big plays during the spring.
Saturday’s Cream and Crimson game has been closed to the public and moved indoors due to concerns about severe weather.