IU’s Matthews poised to take command from safety position

Of all the things Jason Jones will ask a safety to do, Indiana’s Devon “Monster” Matthews has checked every box.

When a meeting is at 6 o’clock, Matthews shows up at 5:45. When the safeties are taking notes during a film session, he isn’t just filling up a page. He’s filling up the front and back. That attention to detail led to an All-Big Ten season for the 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior from Jacksonville, Fla., in 2020.

That’s just about everything IU’s safeties coach could ask from a safety. But it’s not absolutely everything.

“He’s definitely one of the leaders in the secondary and he’s one of those guys that he leads by example,” Jones said. “So my challenge to him is to get him to be more vocal because that’s just not him by nature. Hey, grab some of the younger guys. And, hey, when you come over, and you’re going to work out extra, or you’re going to watch film, grab some of those younger guys and bring them with you. And when you’re on the field, hey, be loud and be vocal.”

Jones doesn’t just want Matthews to be a rangy, physically imposing safety between the lines. It’s time for him to take that next step, which is being a leader. Not only a leader the Hoosiers see and emulate, but one they hear.

Matthews isn’t the most verbose person, but he is one of the more experienced players in IU’s secondary. He saw action as a true freshman in 2018, and now he’s heading into his fourth season.

“I stepped up more last year, being more vocal,” Matthews said. “So this year, I’m even stepping it up another notch.”

On the field, Matthews certainly took things up a notch in 2020. He was flying to the run faster, recognizing route patterns quicker, because he better understood his fit in the Hoosiers’ defense. Matthews finished with a career-high 40 tackles in just eight games, along with six pass breakups.

He also starred in one of the biggest moments of the season, nabbing a game-sealing interception to help snap IU’s 24-game losing streak to Michigan. IU coach Tom Allen was so excited for Matthews — a talented recruit who believed in the program before it was winning games like this — Allen sprinted down the sideline and tackled Matthews where he stood.

“The only thing I remember is seeing him on his interview, he had a big ol’ spot under his eye,” Matthews said, smiling. Allen tried turning his head on the tackle, but the safety’s helmet still caught his cheek, cutting it open.

It was a good year, filled with good memories. But if the Hoosiers are going to take another step, they need more from players like Matthews.

The other half of IU’s starting safety duo, Jamar Johnson, chose to take his talents to the NFL after an All-Big Ten season. The frontrunner to replace Johnson is a converted corner, Raheem Layne, who missed his true senior season in 2020 due to an injury.

Layne is another Florida native, someone Matthews has helped along.

“We work well together,” Matthews said. “Shoot, after practice we used to watch film, I’d go to his house, he’d come to my house. So our chemistry (is) definitely helped there. It’s going to be there. It’s going to be good for the season. It’s going to be great.”

Jones agreed. Layne doesn’t look out of place.

“Raheem, he’s a smart young man. Even though he was injured, as he was going through the rehab process, he still came to every team meeting and every position meeting and he took notes every day as if he was going to play,” Jones said. “When spring ball rolled around and we moved him to safety, it looks like he’s been there the entire time.”

Matthews, who has been there for years, filling up his notebook, is being asked to expand his knowledge beyond his position. It’s time for him to better understand what defensive linemen and linebackers are doing every play.

It’s time for Matthews to make more calls on the field.

“We can put a lot on his plate where we can give him different options. ‘Hey, if they do this, we want you, Monster, to do this check, get us into this particular call or defense,’” Jones said. “That’s what we’re doing with him now, with the next step. We’re putting more on his plate and he’s done a great job of just embracing it and he’s taking it and he’s running with it.”

There are also younger safeties in the room for Matthews to mentor. Jones mentioned another talented Florida native, Josh Sanguinetti, as someone who has performed well this spring. Bryson Bonds, a 6-1, 201-pound safety from Texas, opened some eyes last fall and played a role on special teams.

Matthews, mic’d up for an IU social media piece during last year’s fall camp, was chatty with Bonds about his nickname, “Cheese.” A coach once asked Bonds to nickname himself.

“So someone asked you to name your own self, and you told them Cheese?” Matthews asked, miffed.

“I was put on the spot, bro,” Bonds said, as Matthews turned away, shaking his head. But Monster still likes Cheese’s potential as a player.

“I definitely see him growing,” Matthews said. “They are moving him around, he’s going from one spot to the other. But he’s definitely buying into the system. He’s going to be good.”

Monster is already good, both in nickname and skill. But Jones thinks there are ways for him to become great.

Leadership is the next step.

“He understands what we’re doing, but just taking that next step and just directing traffic and helping everybody else around him,” Jones said. “He’s having a good spring. So he’s doing well.”

8 comments

  1. Monster is a very good safety to build the DBs around, add in the corners Mullen and Taylor you have a strong basis to add players that will have the DBs be the top group in the B1G. Layne should give IU an experienced talented safety to add to Monster so they don’t have to rely on a younger player. IU is loaded with very talented DBs that will give us a lot of depth.

    I am looking for another big year from the secondary making it tough to come in against IU think you can pass or run against this group.

  2. For the positive results of the backend of the D a great deal of credit should be heaped on Coach Shelby. He’s had CB’s become S’s and made S’s become CB’s. Outstanding.

    1. Yes, good point, HC. Shelby is a gem on TA’s otherwise strong coaching staff and he deserves great credit for both recruiting and developing excellent FB players. I really hope Johnson gets drafted in the first three rounds next month. That will be another feather in Shelby’s cap and another strong endorsement of IU FB.

      Given Matthews’s size and experience, if he stays healthy, there’s a good chance he will also be playing on Sundays in the future.

  3. It’s generally accepted, and rightfully so, that the entire program continues to dramatically improve. While more higher recruited players are tending to consider coming to Bloomington, it is still not reflected in the OFFENSIVE LINE. That should be concerning! After the past 2 seasons, this shouldn’t be the case.

    1. Is that a Hiller issue or at TA issue? Who does a majority of recruiting and closing for that position? IU has had a few OL drafted and starting in the NFL it is surprising that hasn’t translated into better quality recruits.

  4. The big issue with OL recruiting is looking at star ratings. There are only a few 5 star OL players and not that many even at 4 star levels. The key is to hit on 3 star and a few 4 star OL [unfortunately most 5 star will go to teams winning national titles] that are better than their ratings then turn them into a very good OL. I think we have pulled in the players but unfortunately we haven’t see them turned into a stellar OL so far. This coming season will determine if Hiller can really develop and OL since all the players are now his recruits.

    1. The coaches don’t focus on star ratings at all. Those are for fans and web site subscribers. One of our best linemen at season’s end was basically a 0 star.The coaches are focused on a certain body type that can develop physically into what they want, foot speed, bend, and arm length. We’ll rarely play two TE’s, so protection, even in a quick out offense, will come from five. We’ve seen the negative impact of missing and getting guys who didn’t fit some of the traits I mentioned. Bit stars don’t really have an impact from a coaching and evaluation position.

  5. C’mon guys, let’s be real! How many 3*’s start on either side,..DL or OL at Alabama, OSU, Clemson etal? The TOP rated OL in-state guys didn’t (don’t) even have Bloomington on their radar.

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