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College Football: Indiana Hoosiers Back Seven Impresses in Spring Game
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16 Apr 2018 05:37 PM EST

-by Nathan Comp, Contributing Writer; Image: Indiana safety Jonathan Crawford makes tackle against Purdue. (Image Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Bloomington, IN—Due to looming threatening weather, the Indiana Hoosiers spring game was played in Mellencamp Pavilion’s indoor practice facility and closed to the general public. Indiana’s defense impressed with their performance on Saturday, as only two offensive touchdowns were allowed (a majority of points were scored in between quarters when the team’s field goal units went back and forth and served as the media timeout between quarters). Here’s what stood out on a defense that graduated eight defensive starters last season:

THE LINEBACKERS

A huge question mark coming into this spring was how the defense could replace the heart and soul of the past, linebackers Tegray Scales and Chris Covington. For so long the position was an obvious strength, but now many younger and inexperienced guys are being given much greater roles. Today, they stood tall to the task.

Linebacker Mike McGinnis wasted no time in making his impact. In the first three plays, McGinnis had tallied two solo tackles. He finished the game with an estimated 4.5 and could always be seen near the ball when the whistle blew. He played with high energy from the first snap and was one of the guys on Coach Tom Allen’s mind when Allen said, “I feel like our guys came in focused and executed well as early as pregame and our team meeting.” At halftime, McGinnis was rewarded for his efforts with an LEO Award, given for his performance throughout the spring.

Coach Allen can also be happy with his son’s performance. When asked who impressed him throughout spring, “I would say Mike McGinnis and Thomas Allen really improved a lot at the linebacker position, and that to me is a huge void for us in our defense.” The younger Allen finished the day with 2.5 tackles for the Crimson team in their victory.

Linebacker Raekwon Jones also had 2.5 tackles and went home with two spring practice awards: Most Outstanding Defense and Strength & Conditioning. Despite their performances, Coach Allen still sees the linebackers as a position of emphasis for the upcoming season. “I would say my concern is the linebacker role. I just know how critical the linebacker play is for any defense, and as young as we are, there's just a lot of question marks. Yeah, spring was good and they did some good things, but we've got a lot of work to do there. We're counting on some younger guys to come in here and give us depth at those positions, guys that aren't even on campus yet, so that would be my biggest concern.”

YOUNG SAFETIES

Although the safety position is led by senior and vocal-leader Jonathan Crawford, the players surrounding Crawford are much less proven. Both Bryant Fitzgerald and Juwan Burgess showed flashes of greatness.

After being ruled ineligible last season, Fitzgerald came into the season with the biggest chip on his shoulder. He made up for this today by making plays all over the field. Tallying 3.5 tackles, Fitzgerald could be seen not only as a lockdown defender in the defensive backfield, but also in his ability to recognize run plays, get to the line of scrimmage, and make tackles. His athleticism continues to impress.

Meanwhile, Burgess had the two highlight plays of the day, including a ferocious hit on receiver Justin Berry early in the second half. After catching a curl pass from Nick Tronti, Berry turned up field and was met by a speeding Burgess that stopped him in his tracks. Burgess also had a key third-down pass breakup on a deep ball by Peyton Ramsey intended for Luke Timian. He finished with 2.5 tackles in the first half.

 “You look at a guy like Juwan Burgess, I thought he flashed today,” Allen said. “He's a gifted, gifted player, but he's young, and he missed the whole season. Same thing with Bryant Fitzgerald. Those guys are special players -- that's why I kept them in there [in the second half].”

Their continued improvement and experience will help anchor the defensive backfield alongside Crawford.

MARCELINO BALL

Marcelino Ball was sidelined for eight games last season because of injury, which is why he came out a bit slow to start the spring season.

“It’s been five or six months since I’ve played. The first week or two kind of felt like I forgot how to play, but after time it comes back. I’m still making mistakes, but I give myself a little leeway for being out for so long,” said Ball.

Regardless of his slow start, Ball is beginning to regain his stride. And with his physical toolset, he remains a player opposing offenses will have to identify before each snap.

In an interesting note, despite Ball’s field presence and attention-grabbing personality, he sees himself as one who leads by action rather than voice.

“I’m trying to be quieter because I feel that making plays, showing effort, and things like that will make your teammates follow your example. I’m trying to stay in my zone and lead by example right now.”

Despite having to replace a majority of the defensive starters for the 2018 season, the Hoosier D has made significant strides this spring. Continuing to improve and play with aggression throughout the summer will have the defense ready for the fall and should please the defensive-minded Allen.

To read more from Sammy Jacobs and his staff at HoosierHuddle.com, click here.

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