Despite the fact that last year Indiana’s defense was statistically the worst in B1G history, the play of true freshmen gave fans reason to hope. TJ Simmons, Darius Latham and Antonio Allen became dependable starters while a handful of others became valuable contributors. Coach Kevin Wilson has never shied away from playing true freshman and has been vocal on his “let the best players play” stance. So which freshmen can fans expect to see on the field this fall? Both Wilson and new Defensive Coordinator Brian Knorr have shed some light on that question in recent interviews. Here’s a look at some of the freshman who, according to Wilson, “are going to be in the mix to play” this season.
As far as defensive backs go, none have received higher praise than Fort Wayne native Donovan Clark. Coaches describe the 5’10” 180 pound cornerback as being further along both mentally and physically than his peers. Returning starters Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter will likely assume their previous roles, but that doesn’t mean Clark won’t see the field. Wilson indicated that Clark has provided real competition for the starters and “might be our fourth corner.”
Kiante Walton and Tony Fields have both received consistent attention for their play at safety. Fields, a Florida native, is built much like incumbent starting safety Antonio Allen. Walton, an under the radar recruit out of Georgia, impressed early on at the cornerback position, but was recently moved to strong safety in order to add depth to the position with his 6’0” 206 pound frame.
Coaches have mentioned Robert McCray and Dameon Willis as high-performers at outside linebacker. McCray’s measurements, 6’2” 255, suggest he is physically ready to compete at the college level. Willis, who played defensive back in high school, may be used in passing situations due to his ability to drop into coverage.
At the inside linebacker position, Greg Gooch and Niles Sykes have shown they’re not afraid to bang heads with the veterans. Gooch, another Florida native, has done nothing but impress as a physical 6’2” 255 pound enforcer. Likewise, former Notre Dame commit Sykes has established himself as a hard hitter. Both freshmen demonstrated their physicality in the Oklahoma Drill (Sykes at 0:55, Gooch 1:08).
No freshman, however, has had the defense-starved coaches salivating like TeGray Scales. Linebackers Coach William Inge said, “he can do a lot of the good things you don’t have to coach,” while Knorr marveled that he is “very, very dynamic.” According to Wilson, he simply “may be the best” of the freshmen.
Weighing under 210 pounds, he’s currently undersized for an inside linebacker, and he won’t beat out David Cooper or TJ Simmons for a starting spot, but the way coaches have talked about the young playmaker, it seems inevitable that fans will hear his number called this fall.
Are these freshmen for real, or just practice all-stars? We’ll find out in less than two weeks.