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Indiana football season preview: Rashard Fant, Indiana's secondary could be strength in 2016

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With a new scheme and four returning starters, the Hoosier secondary will be one of the best of Kevin Wilson’s tenure

Ohio State v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Indiana’s secondary has been brutal the last few years. The Hoosiers have had the Big Ten’s worst pass defense in each of the last three seasons, with last year’s unit giving up a whopping 313.8 pass yards per game.

Indiana’s back four was extremely young last season, and just based on all the returning talent (and incoming JUCO talent) the Hoosiers should see an improvement defending the pass. Additionally, new defensive coordinator Tom Allen’s (the fifth guy to hold the title of defensive or co-defensive coordinator under Kevin Wilson) 4-2-5 scheme promises to help the Hoosier defense improve even more.

STARTERS

Rashard Fant- Fant will once again start at cornerback, where last season he led the Big Ten and finished second nationally with 22 pass breakups. At times he struggled with penalties, but Fant is a pretty sure tackler whose 48 solo stops tied for second-best on Indiana. Of course, this also is indicative of just how busy the Hoosier secondary was last year. Fant is one of the best athletes on Indiana, and during his redshirt junior season he needs to take a big step forward and become one of the leaders of this defense.

Jonathan Crawford- The Big Ten doesn’t officially name an All-Freshman Team, but Crawford found himself on the All-Freshman Teams of ESPN and BTN after his inaugural campaign. The 6-2, 198-pound strong safety registered 76 tackles (48 solo) and four interceptions, leading Big Ten true freshmen in all three categories. Crawford was one of the few bright spots for Indiana’s beleaguered secondary last season, and figures to have another strong year.

Chase Dutra- The third returning starter from last year’s secondary, Dutra missed five games due to injury but still played well when healthy. The free safety notched three double-digit tackle games and was named IU’s defensive player of the week against both Ohio State and Iowa. At Big Ten Media Day, Wilson stated that Dutra was healthy but that the coaching staff would try not to stress the redshirt junior during the preseason to ensure that that remains the case. A full year from Dutra at free safety would really help stabilize the back end of IU’s defense.

Andre Brown Jr.- Brown played a lot as a true freshman, starting eight games at cornerback before suffering a season-ending injury. Brown was IU’s defensive player of the week against Wake Forest, and will look to build on his strong freshman season.

Jayme Thompson- Just like probable starting quarterback Dicky Lagow, Thompson is a JUCO transfer who should make a big impact immediately. The former Ohio State Buckeye spent the last two seasons at Iowa Western Community College, where he helped the Reivers to a combined 23-3 record and was ranked the #2 junior college safety by 247 Sports. Thompson is the third redshirt junior who will start in the secondary and will likely be the fifth defensive back in Allen’s scheme, playing what is known as the “husky” position. Thompson described husky as a “rover, outside two, nickel-type position” to the Indy Star. He’ll basically be playing a hybrid safety/linebacker with both coverage and run-contain responsibilities.

Names to Know

Jameel Cook Jr.- The highlight of Cook’s freshman season was when he picked off an FIU pass and took it 96 yards to the house, preserving a 36-22 IU victory. Cook is also coming off a season-ending injury but should still see some time in the rotation at safety.

Tyler Green- As a true freshman, Green played in eight games and started at cornerback against Michigan and Maryland.

Wesley Green- Green sat out last season after transferring from South Carolina. The redshirt sophomore and former 4-star recruit could challenge Brown for playing time at cornerback.

Leon Thornton III- Originally a wide receiver, Thornton switched to cornerback before the Maryland game. He saw action at cornerback in the final three games of his freshman season, including a start against Purdue.

Conclusion

Last season, the Hoosier secondary was full of injuries and inexperience. With four returning starters, the addition of Thompson, Allen’s new scheme, and good depth, IU’s defensive backfield should be much better than it typically has been under Wilson. There still may be some growing pains in the first few games as Indiana adjusts to playing a 4-2-5, but this should be an average Big Ten secondary—a huge improvement from always being the worst by a wide margin.