Indiana Football is less than a month away from their season opener and head coach Tom Allen is looking for players to step up and help the team.

As preseason camp gets underway for the Hoosiers, they must be prepared for whatever comes at them this season. If this program wants to take the next step, it will have to be ready to adapt at all costs.

Replacing Marcelino Ball

The Hoosiers’ depth chart has taken a hit after defensive back Marcelino Ball tore his ACL during practice last week. Allen said in a press conference on Monday that Ball’s injury was non-contact and he will be out for the season.

I hate that for him. He has been such a great player for us and has really matured so much as a young man. He will handle it the right way, but he will not be able to play this season. We wish him nothing but the very best as he will be having his surgery in the near future and begin the process of recovery for his future.

Indiana head coach Tom Allen during Monday’s press conference

The redshirt senior has played in 41 games while recording 201 total tackles during his career at IU. He missed most of his sophomore season in 2017 after suffering a season-ending injury. The next two seasons after his return, the Roswell, Ga. native contributed with 106 tackles and six pass deflections. Amongst the defensive unit, Ball has the most experience at the husky position for the Hoosiers’ 4-2-5 defense.

Ball’s injury now forces Allen and his defensive staff to find a replacement for his production. Allen said that redshirt junior Bryant Fitzgerald will be the one to move into the starting spot. Allen also mentioned that there are others who can fill the spot if necessary, like linebacker D.K. Bonhomme and defensive backs Jamar Johnson and Noah Pierre. Johnson played the spot last season as Ball’s backup and Allen said that he has the ability to play there.

We feel like we have the depth to be able to rotate a couple of different guys, but right now it is going to be Bryant Fitzgerald as the number one guy at that spot and training D.K. Bonhomme to be his backup.

Indiana head coach Tom Allen during Monday’s press conference

Fitzgerald is now transitioning from safety to husky because of the injury. Ball and him are the same height at 6 feet tall, but Fitzgerald is 11 pounds lighter at 209 pounds. The hybrid position requires players to be flexible athletically and be able to cover both the run and the pass. Fitzgerald recorded 27 tackles and three pass deflections last season while adding three interceptions in 2018.

Overall depth concerns

There is also the factor of playing the upcoming season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Allen said that there have been over 1,200 of the daily rapid tests administered with only one positive result. Allen also mentioned that person was not a football player nor a full-time staff member.

As of right now things seem to be in the positive direction, but the Big Ten season has not started and other conferences have had games postponed this season due to COVID-19. The pandemic puts teams on alert as one incident could drastically affect a team’s depth chart. Injuries occur every year for teams, but now they have to constantly evaluate their depth chart for alternative options in case players go down.

It is a legit concern that I think everyone is having right now in terms of how you handle the unknowns of the season, both with the normal injuries that always occur throughout a year and, obviously, the COVID situation that we are all dealing with. 

Indiana head coach Tom Allen during Monday’s press conference

The offensive line is a group that Allen expressed his concerns about entering the season. Indiana’s front line lost three key members in the offseason as Hunter Littlejohn and Simon Stepaniak graduated and Coy Cronk transferred to Iowa. However, the unit returns production from Caleb Jones, Harry Crider and Matthew Bedford.

Losing three starters on the offensive line is hard to replace, but the Hoosiers have players that can fit into a role up front. Graduate transfer Dylan Powell adds depth to the unit after he played in 19 games at Stanford. Allen said he is really encouraged by Luke Haggard and Chris Bradberry’s development. Mike Katic is another young player that is stepping up, according to Allen.

The entire offensive line is definitely an area that I would say is a concern, but I feel better than I did a month ago because we have had so many reps now.

Indiana head coach Tom Allen during Monday’s press conference

Allen said he likes the way the offensive line has been progressing and has been able to see more in their development. Allen also said that the team has been practicing in spider pads which allow for more hands on drills without worrying about injury. The team will transition to shoulder pads later this week so the offensive line will be able to benefit from more direct contact.

We have been able to see a little more of their development, but we will know more by the end of this week once we have a couple of shell practices (helmets and shoulder pads) in and full pads on Saturday.

Indiana head coach Tom Allen during Monday’s press conference

Secondary leadership

In the secondary, Indiana returns sophomore Tiawan Mullen who is coming off a stellar freshman season. Mullen led the Big Ten with 13 pass breakups and also received an All-Big Ten honorable-mention by both coaches and media. Junior Jaylin Williams played in 13 games at cornerback last season and had the game sealing interception against Ball State. Lastly, junior Reese Taylor emerged as a viable candidate for the position as he recorded 13 tackles and an interception last season.

One of the factors for this position group this season is going to be a step up in leadership. Allen said that both Mullen has shown that leadership in practice through his work and being able to bring young guys with him. Allen also mentioned that Williams has stepped up his leadership the last several months and is excited for him to have a great season.

A guy like Tiawan has to step up, not just in his play, but also in his leadership, and that’s the beauty of what a team is all about. I’m looking forward to seeing who those guys are going to be and I know obviously who we expect them to be, but sometimes it always a guy or two that does more than you expect, and that is what you want to see

Indiana head coach Tom Allen during Monday’s press conference

Mullen understands that there is more for him to do this season to help the team.

What I did last year, it was great and everything, but with Coach Shelby behind me, I need to push harder. I know his expectations, so he doesn’t need to push or yell at me. Just doing whatever I need to do for the team and things like that. Just reach the team goals and whatever accolades that’s for me out there will come after we reach the team goals.

Indiana cornerback Tiawan Mullen during Tuesday’s press conference

Cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby said Tuesday that Larry Tracy III is one guy that keeps doing a great job. Tracy redshirted the 2019 season but played in Indiana’s victory over Eastern Illinois on Sept. 7. The Indianapolis, Ind. native was a three-time all-state selection at Decatur Central High School and closed his career with 292 tackles and eight interceptions.

He keeps making plays. As a freshman, he was kind of scatter-brained, but you can understand that. He has locked in, gotten into the college, started to understand the flows of college and he is locked into football. I see a totally different change in him on and off the field. I am excited for him and the process he is doing to give himself an opportunity to go play

Indiana cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby during Tuesday’s press conference

Shelby is not the only one expecting great things from Tracy but Williams as well.

I am looking for Larry to step up. He can do it, but he needs to know he can do it and have the confidence in himself.

Cornerback Jaylin Williams during Tuesday’s press conference

There is still time for Allen and the Hoosiers to keep evaluating the depth chart ahead of their season opener against Penn State on Oct. 24. One thing is for certain however, this team’s depth can aid the Hoosiers as they face a difficult conference only schedule.

We have got a lot of good work in each and every single day. We are getting our team prepared to be able to play their best football right out of the gate on the 24th.

Indiana head coach Tom Allen during Monday’s press conference

Photo: Indiana University Athletics

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