Allen finding early encouragement on defense

When he arrived as a fresh-faced and impassioned coordinator last spring, Tom Allen felt obligated to bring the energy for his defense each day at the start of practice.

He doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Now, Allen sees his players bringing focus without needing reminders. For a defense that feels it can improve upon last year’s remarkable turnaround in 2017, that’s as good of a sign as any two practices into Allen’s first spring as Indiana’s head coach could provide.

“I felt like I always had to set the tone for everything,” Allen said.” Now, there’s players doing it. There are other coaches doing it and the standard has been set. The expectations have been set. They’re not satisfied. We had a good year last year, but we want to be a great defense.”

There are pieces in place to build to that point during the coming months. Already, the starting point is higher for a defense that enters a new year ranked No. 1 nationally in returning defensive production by college football statistics guru Bill Connelly.

Of course, the Hoosiers will miss the leadership of middle linebacker Marcus Oliver, who declared for the NFL Draft after his redshirt junior season, and the production of defensive tackle Ralph Green III, who graduated and is also hoping to latch on with a professional team.

But there’s a lot to like in a unit that gave up fewer explosive plays, made more open-field tackles, improved 75 spots in total defense to No. 45 in the country (380 yards allowed per game) and returns All-American linebacker Tegray Scales to the core of the defense.

“It’s a lot of production, but I also make sure we that we’ve got to perform again,” said second team All-Big Ten cornerback Rashard Fant, who chose to return for his senior season rather than turn pro. “It’s a new year. All those numbers are from last year. We got it going and (are trying to) hold that standard again, but we can even get a little bit better, myself included.

“I know it starts with me and Tegray. We have to better ourselves and we know everybody else will follow. Just continue to get better knowing we’re older. We can be even smarter and make even better decisions on the defensive side because we’re older and it’s expected of us. It’s exciting to see, this new year, what we can do.”

After Indiana’s second practice of the spring on Sunday afternoon — and still a couple days away from the team’s first padded practice — Allen was most concerned with making sure his players were lining up correctly, fixing their eyes on the proper targets and executing assignments in drills.

Already, however, Allen said he’s been encouraged to see the way Jonathan Crawford has approached a greater leadership role among the safeties, and how hybrid safety Marcelino Ball has acclimated to his first spring as a college player.

Defensive end Greg Gooch, too, has captured Allen’s attention.

“Gooch, to me, would be one that I think is different from a maturity, leadership (perspective),” Allen said. “Really, really pleased with the way he’s handled himself both in the workouts and in the first two practices. Those guys jump out at me on defense.”

Allen is also paying close attention to Mike linebacker, where Oliver starred during the past two seasons. Dameon Willis and Chris Covington should both factor heavily into the competition, but Allen isn’t looking for merely one player to step forward into Oliver’s former role.

“I really feel like I want to come out of spring ball with several guys that we feel good about,” he said. “That’s one of our goals. It’s one of our objectives of our spring to finish up with that, a really good depth chart, especially at that Mike spot where we feel we have several options of guys who can rotate in there and do a good job together and find a guy who wants to take over and run this defense.”

Already, too, Allen has found several players willing to take over for him by bringing the necessary energy and focus to practice every day.

11 comments

  1. If IU’s defense improves half as much in 2017 as they did last season, IU will be an outstanding defensive team, and one that can cover up a lot of deficiencies in the offense. But let’s hope the new offensive staff improves their unit the way Allen improved the defense last year.

  2. Po, IU will have a very good team if your hope for the team comes true. I have the same hopes about the offense along with the defense. It is very good news to hear coach Allen say he doesn’t need to be the one to bring the energy to the team. Of course Allen will still bring energy but now it will be multiplied by a number of players adding to it and know what they need to do to be successful.

    I hope to read a report about the offense soon about how things are going on that side of the ball.

  3. While Coach Frey was certainly a good one I don’t believe that the coaching turnover is necessarily a bad thing. I have to believe that Coach Allen feels better about his own hires, overall, than working with the entire staff that was in place.

    There were guys that just weren’t getting the job done. I’m looking at you, special teams.

    No, I imagine Coach Allen is pretty happy about the new guys, particularly the new OC. I know I am.

  4. Offense in Spring camp this year is a big deal. All new staff and only 2 familiar working with each other. It will take the entire camp to get on the same page with DeBord resulting in not getting all the offense installed. That means Fall camp will be needed to focus on that and valuable practice time not being used to polish the execution of individual plays(not to mention all the new starters and returning injured players getting acclimated). In fact all the offense very well may not be installed by midseason of the B1G. D is a little different as it doesn’t require the # of repetitions the offense does. Just the cost of change.

  5. While I agree that there will be work to be done to get the players on the same page, you can be sure that the coaches were all on the same page as DeBord before anyone set foot on the practice field.

    The coaches haven’t been sitting on their hands waiting for practice to start. They have no doubt put in countless hours making certain everyone knows the drill.

    As the offense never did figure out what the plan was last season it shouldn’t be too daunting installing an offense that makes some sense to them. At the end of the season receivers were still running the wrong routes, Lagow was still throwing to the wrong spot, and running backs were running into the wrong gap (if there was a gap). They didn’t look as though they had improved from the prior spring game. In all likelihood, the Natee/Diamont package was thought up and installed the same week it was used in a game.

    The best thing they can do is scrap that entire mess they were using last season, IMHO.

  6. Chet that is ridiculous. Over half the O staff were hired less than a month ago, and that was the short month. I would be surprised if any of the 3 are using an address that will be the same one used in a year from now. Heard and the OC very possible are nearer philosophy coordination but for the other 3 it is OJT during Spring camp. This will affect O performance into midseason. There is the possibility it can be smooth but the completeness is on a retarded schedule which will be dominant for timing and execution of every O play. I’ll remain positive with hopes but guarded for expectations.

  7. HC, you may be right about the offense but DeBord may take a different approach which could make the Fall transition easier. It sure seemed like the past few years IU made the offense too difficult for their own players along with the opponents. DeBord could take the approach of 4 or 5 running plays that are executed very well with needed passing plays that counter the run game to go along with a limited # of drop back passes. Add in several screen passes and IU has an offense they can master and one that would create problems for opponents to stop.

    The short comings under Wilson showed up in short yardage situations that kept IU from exploiting many scoring opportunities. I hope this new staff and offenses solves the short yardage and scoring opportunities that Wilson couldn’t solve.

  8. IU’s Offensive situation is far from ideal, but I’m guessing that simplifying the playbook and driving better execution can make up the difference. I certainly don’t think having an entirely new offensive coaching staff is conducive for a good result for IU opening the season against OSU, but other than that, if IU’s offense can reduce turnovers and improve execution, an improved defense can neutralize this temporary disadvantage. I mean what good was last year’s explosive and high yardage offense that could not get the ball into the end zone, could not kick field goals, and had a terrible record going for it on fourth down and short yardage? Last year’s offense wasted an enormous number of scoring opportunities. A simpler, more efficient offense, a QB who reduces INTs, and an unit that improves execution could, at least, be just as effective in the first half of the season. DeBord is an old pro. His assistants are young and have lots of stamina. They’ll all earn their pay over the next seven months.

    1. Exactly, I keep hearing people referring to the previous staff as if they put together ‘The Greatest Show On Turf’. The offense last year was bad in every respect but total yards. If next season’s offense doesn’t suck it will be an upgrade.

      I’m betting next season’s team will score more points.

  9. Po and Chet, I agree about last year’s offense and hope the new offense is much better than last year’s offense. An offense that executes well and keeps picking up 1st downs without fumbles, turnovers, and sacks would be very good for IU and help out the defense.

    IU has very talented skilled players on offense this year that could really pressure defenses if our QB and OL plays very well. I like the response from players about how they like the new coaches and the tempo in offense. IU has big receivers and some very fast receivers that could exploit the defenses they play against in 2017. I really like Heard’s approach for receivers; saying the best will play no matter who they are. I hope he can teach them not to drop passes as they did under Johns. I also hope Sheridan gets the QBs to really improve on accuracy and making the right reads along with avoiding sacks. Coach Hiller’s coach should get the OL better than last year helping out the QBs and RBs.

    Right now the players and coaches say things are going well with intensity, tempo, and leadership. They say the offense is going in and the players are picking it up easily with a bit f head spinning. This year we need the offense to step up and help the defense. The special teams need to improve and make a big difference in the games. GO Hoosiers!

  10. Good luck hoping the offense can play up to the improvement of the D. Lots more work required for a new staff in total than an existing unit. Learning personnel on staff and players on the roster eats up some of the limited time on the practice field. The disruption the Buckeyes will instill will last for 2-3 games. Execution won’t be the only thing affected but will be the 1st thing to suffer. Hope I’m wrong but I doubt it, have seen it too many times.

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