When Indiana schedules a team meeting for 6 o’clock, Devon Matthews makes sure to arrive by 5:45. When the safeties are huddled inside their meeting room in the bowels of IU’s North End Zone complex, Matthews is sitting at attention, furiously scribbling the takeaways from that day’s lesson.
“Go look at his notebook,” IU safeties coach Jason Jones said. “He’s got notes on the front page and the back page.”
Matthews does a lot of things the way his coaches want them done. He works hard, plays hard, goes to class and completes his tasks in a model manner. His attention to detail helped him ascend to All-Big Ten status during the 2020 season, during which he started all eight games at strong safety and posted a career-high 40 tackles.
The next objective for the man they call Monster? Leading the back end of IU’s secondary with both his play and his voice.
“Monster, he’s played a lot of snaps,” Jones said. “He’s been in a lot of games and he’s helped us win a lot of games. ... My challenge to him is to get him to be more vocal because that’s just not him by nature.”
Three seasons in, Matthews seems to have a handle on most other things required of him. He logged more snaps (514) than any other Indiana defender last season, playing alongside former Hoosier safety and current NFL Draft prospect Jamar Johnson. According to Pro Football Focus, Matthews graded out as IU’s highest-rated tackler while recording five pass breakups across the Hoosiers’ 4-0 start to the season.
He is, at this point, one of the most experienced and trusted members of Indiana’s defense, and all of his studying and film review last offseason helped him understand not only his own responsibilities, but those of the Husky and corners, too. Matthews was eager to take on more duties and accountability in the backfield, and his coaches responded by giving him exactly what he asked for.
“He is a smart young man and understands that we could put a lot on his plate and give him different options,” Jones said. “‘Say they do this, we want you to make this check to get us into this particular call or defense.’ That is what we are doing with him now for the next step. We are putting more on his plate, and he has done a good job at embracing it. He is taking it and running with it.”
That’s important not only for Matthews’ own edification, but because IU needs him to pull along the rest of the younger, more inexperienced players in his position group. With Johnson gone, Matthews will likely be flanked by corner-turned-safety Raheem Layne in the fall. Throughout spring ball, the two have been running side by side.
Although Layne has been in the program since 2017, he only moved to safety last spring. Then, in October, he suffered a season-ending injury that paused his transition to the new position. So as Matthews and Layne continue to develop their on-field chemistry, IU’s coaching staff also wants Matthews to also help youngsters such as Josh Sanguinetti and Bryson Bonds.
It’s all part of Matthews’ ongoing objective in taking the step and being a more commanding leader.
“I definitely progressed very well going into last year,” Matthews said. “I think I stepped up more last year in being more vocal. This year, I am even taking it up another notch. I am just talking more, communicating more.”