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For Indiana defense, there's no safety in experience

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Highly regarded freshmen could make instant impact

Monday, August 5, 2013 - 12:01 am

Greg Heban gets it. Indiana's senior safety knows the defense can't be a Big Ten doormat anymore. Not if the Hoosiers are to back up optimism that this will be a special season.

A highly regarded group of freshmen adds to the motivation.

“I don't think anybody's job is safe right now,” Heban said. “Coach (Kevin) Wilson said he'll play the better player. The upperclassmen realize how good a freshman class we have coming in. That's going to spark us. We'll compete a little harder for the job.”

Competition is among the keys to a defense that has consistently been mediocre -- or worse -- for a generation.

Last year the Hoosiers gave up an average of 35.2 points, including 62, 45 and 56 in their last three games. They allowed 231.3 yards rushing and 232.2 yard passing. That's the kind of consistency Wilson, who is starting his third season, doesn't want to see any more.

“We have to make strides defensively,” he said. “Quite honestly, it's been embarrassing how we played in our first two years. Our effort, toughness needs to be better.”

For the record, IU allowed 37.3 points in Wilson's first season.

“We recruited some quality young players,” he said. “There will be more competition in practice to get on the defensive field in games.

“Their talent level appears as good as many of the guys we've been playing with. Their skill set is pretty good. We promised no one you're going to play and start. But I think we'll have competition.”

Indiana's highly regarded freshman class features 15 defensive players, including four-star prospects Antonio Allen (defensive back), David Kenney (defensive tackle), Darius Latham (defensive tackle) and Rashard Fant (defensive back).

“Antonio Allen is doing a great job,” Heban said. “So is Rashard Fants. I'm excited to see them play.”

“Rashard is so athletic. He's smart. He needs to get some more size (Fant is listed at 5-10 and 162 pounds), but he has great awareness and hips. He'll be a great cornerback.

“Antonio is big and solid (5-10 and 205 pounds). He likes to hit. His key is understanding the scheme. Once he does, look out because he has great awareness.”

The defense has already taken a couple of hits. Cornerback Antonio Marshall was kicked off the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules before preseason camp started. Junior college transfer Maurice Swain didn't qualify academically. He will finish his again play at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College this season.

The biggest loss was junior linebacker Chase Hoobler because of a stress fracture in his ankle. He's out indefinitely, perhaps until midseason. He has 74 career tackles.

The good news is IU's linebacker depth. That includes seniors Jacarri Alexander and Griffen Dahlstrom, plus junior Forisse Hardin. The Hoosiers also have junior college transfer Steven Funderburke along with four freshmen: T.J. Simmons, Kris Smith, Clyde Newton and Marcus Oliver.

Simmons enrolled at IU last winter and participated in workouts and spring practice.

“He's going to be a two-deep impact player,” Wilson said.

“Some of those young D-linemen are going to give us competition and depth. I think the linebackers, and we need to be significantly better at linebacker, are going to give us some competition. And I'm really excited about the corner and safety guys.”

The players feel the excitement.

“I think the defense will step up,” Heban said. “We're understanding what the coaches are trying to teach us. We're going harder. I think it comes down to effort.

“Last year, toward the end of the season, I don't think we have as much effort as we needed to. We got a little tired. That won't happen this year.”

Added Wilson: “We'll see when the bullets start flying, but I think a lot of those young guys will get on the field. There might be some growing pains, but we'll be growing with guys who are faster and more talented.”