We return with our second installment of Indiana’s 50 most important players. As was the theme of our initial set of players in part 1, we continue with many inexperienced players with potential as well as quality depth pieces in the rotation. And a punter.
No. 40 – C.J. Person, NT, R-Fr
Where He May Fit: After not seeing any action for the first 8 games of the 2019 season (thereby earning the opportunity to redshirt), Person saw action in the final 4 games of the regular season. He rotated in behind Demarcus Elliot and Sio Nofoagatoto recording 1 tackle for loss over 6 non-garbage time possessions. At 6’3″, 291 pounds, Person doesn’t have the size of the players ahead of him, but he got his feet wet last year and should be able to rotate in at NT or possibly DT depending on how things shake out.
No. 39 – Jacolby Hewitt, WR, R-So
Where He May Fit: Some young receiver will step up behind Ty Fryfogle, Miles Marshall, and Whop Philyor. We’ve mentioned Jordan Jakes, Javon Swinton, and Rashawn Williams already as potential candidates. They could easily outperform Hewitt. The native of Tennessee is in his third year in the program having yet to see playing time after redshirting in 2018 and tearing his ACL prior to the 2019 season. Hewitt did score a touchdown in last Saturday’s scrimmage
No. 38 – Mike Katic, G, R-Fr
Where He May Fit: Katic redshirted last season but did earn scout team honors twice. He figures to play one of the guard positions, presumingly rotating in with Mackenzie Nworah with Dylan Powell manning the other guard spot. Nworah probably has the upper-hand, having started in 3 games last year. Unless injuries or performance provide separation, what will likely happen is a rotation between Nworah and Katic. Especially early in the season, we’ve seen this type of rotation previously under Darren Hiller. For example the rotation between Nick Linder and Hunter Littlejohn in 2018 that eventually ended with Linder as the primary center.
No. 37 – Beau Robbins, DE, R-Fr
Where He May Fit: Robbins came to Indiana as IU’s top rated defensive recruit in the class of 2019. He redshirted last year, seeing playing time in 2 games although no meaningful defensive action. Robbins already has the size that former DE Madison Norris was never able to build up to. That, along with his natural ability that made him a 4 star recruit, should land Robbins in the defensive end rotation.
No. 36 – D.K. Bonhomme, LB, So
Has: As a true freshman he played in 11 games, primarily on special teams. In an ideal world, you’d prefer not to need to forgo a redshirt season for primarily a special teams role, but you also want your best unit out there. Clearly Bonhomme fit that bill.
Shows: Speed. Bonhomme came to Indiana with a reputation of being an athletic linebacker. After Marcelino Ball’s injury, he was moved to husky to backup Bryant Fitzgerald.1 That lasted a week before he moved back to linebacker, but he definitely has the athleticism to play the WLB position.
Needs: Experience. He may get it in 2020 backing up Cam Jones, but it won’t be easy. You’d prefer to let a young guy get his feet wet in some non-conference games. That won’t happen this year. We’ll see who handles the primary passing situations between Bonhomme and Aaron Casey. At worst, he’ll see playing time on special teams again.
No. 35 – Matt Bjorson, TE, Jr
Has: Reliability. Since coming to Indiana in 2018, he has played in all 25 games, starting in one. At a position like tight end that can be physically demanding, his dependability is impressive.
Shows: Strong blocking ability. Bjorson is Indiana’s most proven blocking tight end. Whether taking on a defender for Stevie Scott or staying in to protect Michael Penix, Bjorson will be tasked with doing the dirty work. The question is whether he can hold up against the high-level defensive fronts that make up at least half of IU’s schedule (that question applies to the offensive line as a whole, by the way).
Needs: An improved receiving ability. He came to Indiana with a reputation of being a hybrid tight end, but has yet to flash much pass catching skill. His catch rate is just 67%, low considering his average depth of target. He’s never going to have the athleticism of Peyton Hendershot or Gary Cooper, but improving his receiving ability should lead to more involvement if Hendershot were to miss time. Otherwise, he’ll likely maintain his current role with Cooper backing up Hendershot.
No. 34 – Haydon Whitehead, P, R-Sr
Has: A sweet Aussie accent and 3 years of experience in the Big Ten.
Shows: At worse, a solid floor for the punting position. He’s 5th in Indiana history in career punting average at 41.0 with a high of 42.7 last year. That ranked 5th in the Big Ten, an improvement from 9th in 2018 and 2019. While yards per punt doesn’t tell the entire story, it does tend to highlight punters that avoid shanks or other short punts.
Needs: A bit more consistency. The senior has some booming punts, but also had a 12-yard punt last year. Additionally, he had some success pinning opponents inside their 10-yard line last year, but also a few that ended up in the end zone for a touchback. More frequently trapping the opponent deep in their own territory will provide a big advantage for the Indiana defense.
No. 33 – James Miller, LB, R-So
Has: Grown man strength. Prior to Thomas Allen’s injury opening the door to more playing time, Miller saw a lot of action in short yardage situations.
Shows: An elite tackling ability. Miller missed just 2 tackles in non-garbage time last year. Can he maintain that level of tackling if he sees more playing time in 2020?
Needs: The ability to play sideline-to-sideline. If Miller gets to the ball carrier, it’s likely he’ll make the play. The issue is Miller getting beat to the corner by some of the speedier Big Ten players. Whether it is an actual improvement in burst or quicker recognition, being able to get to the ball carrier before he turns the corner would take Miller to a new level. For now, he’ll pair well with Thomas Allen in the MLB rotation, backing up McFadden.
No. 32 – Shamar Jones, DT, R-So
Has: Experience. Jones played in 12 of the 13 games last year and saw time in 46% of the non-garbage time possessions.
Shows: Interior pass-rushing. Jones racked up 5 pressures in 2019, which is a decent number for a rotational interior lineman who generally wasn’t on the field for passing downs. That’s a skillset he will need to build upon if he wants to hold off playing time challengers like Darmarjhe Lewis and Jovan Swann.
Needs: Improved tackling. Jones’ 80% tackle rate was on the low end of IU’s defensive linemen. Jones isn’t likely to have many tackling opportunities, but when he gets them, he can’t miss.
No. 31 – Alfred Bryant, DE, R-Jr
Has: Like many of the depth options, Bryant has experience playing in 23 total games over the past 2 years. Last season he saw time on 60% of Indiana’s non-garbage possessions.
Shows: Some havoc ability, recording 4 TFL and 4 pressures to go with a forced fumble in 2019. That equates to a havoc play on 12% of his non-garbage possessions, fewer than James Head, Mike Ziemba, or the graduated Allen Stallings.
Needs: Consistent playmaking ability. In 2019, Bryant didn’t have a non-garbage time pressure until the Purdue game, when he tallied four. He forced a fumble and added a TFL against Nebraska. In IU’s 10 other games, Bryant tallied just 3 TFLs and no pressures. If he can add a little consistency and reach a havoc play on 14-16% of his possessions, he could see a playing time share closer to the 66% that Stallings recorded. However, if one of the young ends, particularly Beau Robbins or Jeramy Passmore, emerges then Bryant could see a playing time dip.