It’s time to close the book on participation for the 2018 Hoosier defense and take an early look at the 2019 defensive depth chart.
2019 Participation Report
33 defensive players saw action in 2018. That may seem similar to the 30 players who played on offense, but the distribution was actually quite different due to the different substitution patterns on each side of the ball. On defense, 18 players appeared in 50% of IU’s defensive possessions, and 28 guys played in at least 18.7%. Not a single defensive player saw action in 90% of defensive possessions or more – Jonathan Crawford led the way, playing in 87.8%. On the other hand, five offensive players appeared in 90% of IU’s possessions. Fifteen offensive players appeared in 50% or more, but only 19 played in more than 18%.
Breaking it down by class, 7 seniors, 8 juniors, 4 sophomores and 13 freshmen saw action. This group didn’t have quite the balance as the offense, but there’s certainly plenty of youth. The smaller group of sophomores can be partially explained by IU’s experienced group in 2017, which led several talented 2017 freshmen to redshirt. In 2018, 5 of the 13 freshmen to see action were redshirts.
While Jonathan Crawford still led the way in defensive playing time, his 87.8% rate was actually a significant reduction from 2017, when he played in 99% of defensive possessions. His playing rate was over 90% in 2016 as well, and although I didn’t track playing time by possessions in 2015, I wouldn’t be shocked if Crawford pushed 90% in that season as well. The guy played a lot of football and was a vital part of some very good IU defenses.1
The defense was remarkably healthy in 2018. The only truly long-term injury was Jacob Robinson, and even he played enough at the beginning and the end of the season that he couldn’t take advantage of the new redshirt rule.2 Aside from Robinson, the defense’s injuries consisted of short absences spread fairly evenly throughout positions and points in the season.
Winter 2019 Defensive Depth Chart
Let’s start with the glaring hole that is nose tackle. The rotation in 2018 was Mike Barwick, Kayton Samuels and Ja’Merez Bowen. All seniors, all gone. If Juan Harris had not opted to leave for a JuCo around this time last year, he would have been in the mix in 2018, possibly even as the starter. Now, with his return from the JuCo ranks, the effect is the same as if he’d suffered a season-long injury in Fall Camp. If Harris is in shape, I expect him to start at NT. Behind him, then-true freshman Shamar Jones garnered praise during 2018 Fall Camp for his strong play. He didn’t crack the rotation in 2018, but he will be needed in 2019. There’s also a real opportunity for incoming true freshman Sio Nofoagatoto’a to play early. Finally, redshirt sophomore LeShaun Minor is still on the roster and could contribute at this spot, but I think if Minor does make it back from whatever held him out in 2018, DT is the more likely spot for him.
Speaking of DT, things are more settled there. Redshirt junior Jerome Johnson is the clear starter and may be the best player on the 2019 defense. After him, redshirt senior Brandon Wilson bulked up and finally carved out a role for himself in 2018 as the 2nd team DT. He should fill that role again in 2019, although redshirt freshman Jonathan King could challenge for time, if the coaching staff opts to move him inside from SDE.
At DE, there is ample experience on both sides. The question is how to split it up and whether younger, more athletic talent might trump that experience. Allen Stallings, now a senior3, is the presumptive starter at WDE. Stallings has been steady and reliable for the past two seasons, but more production is needed. Rising sophomore James Head could split time with him, or shift over to SDE. Head is too talented not to start at one spot or the other. If Head isn’t shifted to SDE, it may be that Stallings moves back to his prior pass-rushing specialist role, while Head handles early downs and shifts to SDE on passing downs. At SDE, redshirt senior Gavin Everett will likely see a good amount of early down work. Once again, Everett is reliable and good against the run, but IU needs more production from this spot, particularly from a pass rush standpoint. 2018 reserves Lance Bryant and Michael Ziemba return. Either could take a step forward and become the starter, or, again, Jonathan King could steal some snaps.
At corner, IU has the luxury of having four players return who saw significant action in previous seasons: Andre Brown, A’Shon Riggins, Raheem Layne and Jaylin Williams. Hopefully all four are still there when Fall Camp rolls around, but it wouldn’t shock me if one of the upperclassmen, Andre Brown or A’Shon Riggins, grad transfers to find more consistent playing time. While none of these guys were true lockdown corners in 2018, all were serviceable. That may sound like faint praise, but it’s not exactly common for IU to have four serviceable corners. The fact that this quartet shared a similar skill level likely explained the heavy rotation among them. That said, true freshman Jaylin Williams seemed to come on as the season progressed and has the most potential in the group. If all four return, IU has good depth and a potential Fant-ian lockdown corner in Williams. Incoming freshman Tiawan Mullen could easily play his way into this mix as well.
Husky is probably the easiest position to address: redshirt junior Marcelino Ball is the man, and if Jerome Johnson isn’t the best player on this defense, Ball is. Sophomore Cam Jones will back up Ball, but given Jones’ demonstrated playmaking ability in limited action as a true freshman, it might make sense to move him to a position where he can play more. With highly-touted true freshman Cameron Williams ticketed for Husky as well, it makes even more sense to create a little space on the depth chart there. We’ll dig into this more between now and Spring practice, but I think WLB might make sense for Jones. Redshirt freshman Jamar Johnson flashed potential in very limited action in 2018 and will challenge for more playing time either at Husky or one of the safety spots.
For the first time in 4 years, one of IU’s safety spots will not be manned by Jonathan Crawford. Although Crawford will undoubtedly be missed, IU’s safety group actually looks fairly promising heading into 2019. I expect redshirt sophomore Bryant Fitzgerald to start at strong safety. He was far from perfect in 2018, but he flashed serious potential and playmaking ability. The free/field safety position may turn into a 3-way battle between sophomores Juwan Burgess and Devon Matthews, and senior Khalil Bryant. Burgess is probably the most athletic, but his size (or lack thereof) is a concern.4 Matthews came in regularly in passing situations in 2018 and seems capable of handling an expanded role. Bryant is steady, if unspectacular. One of these three will also rotate with Fitzgerald at strong/boundary safety.
IU’s linebacker situation is tricky and will require its own dedicated post here in the near future. In his first year as LBs coach, Kane Wommack (now IU’s DC) played essentially a 5-man linebacker rotation.5 Two of the five are gone: starting MLB Dameon Willis (graduation) and 2nd team WLB TD Roof (injury). Rising 5th yr senior Raekwon Jones returns and should start at WLB. Sophomores Micah McFadden, Thomas Allen and James Miller all saw action as freshmen in 2018, and all will vie for the starting MLB spot and reserve snaps at both spots. It’s also entirely possible that McFadden unseats Jones as the starter at WLB. There’s probably a spot or two in the rotation for a returning guy, like Mo Burnam or Aaron Casey, or a true freshman.
Participation Reports: Maryland, Michigan and Purdue