Fields growing into new role in IU secondary

Tony Fields still views himself as a free safety.

But he doesn’t mind his new assignment, either.

With Marcelino Ball unavailable since Sept. 23 due to an unspecified injury, Fields has shifted to Ball’s Husky spot, which is essentially a hybrid position that combines the responsibilities of a linebacker and safety.

So far, so good.

“It definitely allows me to show a different side of my abilities,” Fields said.

For Fields, that means helping IU’s defensive front stop the run, in addition to his duties in coverage. The Hoosiers didn’t fare so well against Michigan’s ground game last weekend, yielding 271 total rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry to the Wolverines. But they’ll have a chance to try again this Saturday at Michigan State against a Spartans offense that’s ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten with 192.1 rushing yards per game.

Fields, meanwhile, is growing into his new role.

Although Penn State picked on him during his Husky debut on Sept. 30, he seems to be settling in. Fields, a 5-foot-11 senior, earned IU’s co-defensive player of the week honor for his work against Michigan, matching his career high with seven solo stops and making one tackle for loss.

Losing Ball’s athleticism and zest for hitting is indeed a blow to an Indiana defense still trying to grow reliable depth, and Fields may not be in this position if IU’s compliance office hadn’t botched the eligibility of freshman Bryant Fitzgerald.

But pressed into action, Fields is adjusting on the fly.

“It was really a lot to put on him, for sure,” IU coach Tom Allen said about moving Fields to the hybrid position. “But I think he’s a smart kid. He’s a very savvy player (with) moxie, and he’s not a high-rep guy, so it allowed him to pick it up pretty quickly and be effective. I’ve been really encouraged by his success at that position and we needed him to step up. He’s been a true champion in the way he’s approached that.”

Fields started all 13 games at free safety last season. This year, two of Fields’ three starts — games against Penn State and Charleston Southern — have come at Husky. Indiana didn’t start a Husky against Michigan, opting for a third linebacker against the Wolverines’ power run game.

Even though Fields is the upperclassman, he’s leaned on the sophomore Ball — already a two-year starter, when healthy — for advice on making reads at the position. Ball has been happy to oblige.

Fields didn’t necessarily volunteer to take over the Husky job when Ball went down against Georgia Southern, but he didn’t protest, either.

To him, getting on the field, showcasing a different side of his game and helping IU’s defensive succeed were most important.

“They asked me and I was ready to go,” Fields said. “I’m willing to do anything for this team. I love my guys. I love my teammates and I’m trying to do anything to win. I was ready.”