Oliver asked to set the standard on defense #iufb

Indiana linebacker Marcus Oliver runs during practice on Friday. (Chris Howell | Herald-Times)
Indiana linebacker Marcus Oliver runs during practice on Friday. (Chris Howell | Herald-Times)
The sight of Marcus Oliver’s first mistake of spring practice gave Tom Allen the opportunity to rip into his All-Big Ten linebacker.

It was a moment Allen had waited for all winter.

Since taking the job as Indiana’s new defensive coordinator in January, Allen has viewed Oliver as the leader of the defense.

But Allen has also believed Oliver needed a push to truly reach that potential.

He thought Oliver could do a better job of being a vocal leader and setting a higher standard for a maligned and beleaguered Indiana defense. Very early in spring practice, Allen made himself clear:

“I called him out. I challenged him,” Allen said. “As a matter of fact, I kicked him off the field once, during a certain drill. And then I pulled him in and we talked one-on-one. I knew that was what he needed. Because we have to have that guy.

“People talk about ‘leading by example.’ That’s not leading … what if I did that as the defensive coordinator? So, to me, he has to step up and talk. He has to bark out the calls with confidence, and when something is wrong, he has to fix it. He has to have the core confidence, as a leader, to go fix it. And that’s where I wanted to get him at. I really thought there needed to be more demanded of him, more expected of him, and he’s responded.”

After a season in which he became the first Hoosier since 2009 to record 100 tackles, earning all-conference honorable mention honors in the process, Oliver understands the responsibilities he’s been asked to shoulder.

With a new season on the horizon and a dose of optimism injected into the program, the redshirt junior wants to deliver.

“He used me as an example in order to show everybody else that nobody is too good to not do everything right,” Oliver said. “He set an example out of me and told me I need to hold everybody to the same standard that I hold myself to. That’s where he started.”

And that’s where Oliver is trying to answer.

He was one of three IU players, along with offensive linemen Dan Feeney and Dimitric Camiel, hand-picked to represent the program last month at the Big Ten’s annual media day and kickoff luncheon event in Chicago. He mingled amongst fans at a pep rally, answered an hour’s worth of questions about the upcoming season and put another face on a program desperately hoping to show signs of defensive progress this fall.

Dressed in a blue suit, Oliver handled himself well during his appearance — though he also admitted that being in front of microphones and standing on that kind of stage is not something he actively seeks or enjoys.

“(We) talked about him going up to Big Ten Media Day and he said, ‘That’s tough. I don’t really like that. That’s not where I’m comfortable.’ And that he’d rather be somewhere else, would rather be on the field playing,” Allen said.

“And I said, ‘But the reality, Marcus, is that your position demands it.’ You’re going to be the Mike linebacker on the defense, and that demands that you step up.”

While his education in leadership continues, Oliver has already begun to represent a defensive anchor for the Hoosiers.

No one on that side of the ball last season was more opportunistic than Oliver, who forced four fumbles and intercepted two passes for IU in 2015. During spring practice, he bought into Allen’s demand for more defensive takeaways and says he tied with safety Jonathan Crawford for the team lead.

Allen recognizes Oliver as a hard worker, and he knows the Ohio native can take the extra push he’s been given so far this year.

“The bottom line is that some guys are just natural-born leaders,” Allen said. “I get that. I also have learned, over time, that if they have those core qualities, you can draw it out of them … and I felt like he was a guy where we had no choice. He had to step up.”