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2018 In Review: How did Indiana utilize the new redshirt rule?

As documented all season, the NCAA’s new redshirt rule affected the way programs handled incoming recruiting classes. As the rule states, players can play *up* to four games without losing a year of eligibility. This rule, of course, mostly applies to freshmen.

Stevie Scott high-steps into the endzone vs. Purdue. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

From the start, Indiana’s Tom Allen made it abundantly clear that the Hoosiers would use the NCAA’s new rule to their advantage. Who wouldn’t? But with Indiana being so young, the Hoosiers needed their young players for depth. Popular preseason questions were: How many redshirts would Indiana *have* to burn? How would IU’s staff manage the dilemma of short-term need, but long-term benefit with its freshmen class?

Well, the 2018 season has concluded. So let’s see how it all played out, and where Indiana’s roster will presumably stand in 2019:

For starters, Allen played 17 true freshmen this season — compared to 12 in 2017. This is a combination of a few things: the new redshirt rule, a significantly less experienced roster, and a higher-rated incoming class with immediate contributors at skill positions.

Indiana’s 2018 class featured 27 players on scholarship. After DB Elijah Rodgers left the program for Gardner-Webb before the season, 26 freshmen remained. 10 will be sophomores in 2019, while 16 will maintain their year of eligibility as redshirt freshmen next season:

Returning as Sophomores in 2019: (10)

RB Stevie Scott (12 games): It doesn’t get any more obvious than with Stevie Scott. The true freshman finished 14th in single-season rushing yards at Indiana, with 1,137 yards (5.0 ypc) and ten touchdowns. Scott owns the IU record for single-season freshman rushing yards, and broke Anthony Thompson’s program mark with six 100+ yard games as a freshman. He will be a sophomore next season after playing in all 12 games for Indiana, and has already established himself as a household name in Bloomington despite missing his senior season of high school to injury. He couldn’t have been any more impressive in 2018, proving his reliability and ability to move the chains — plus deceptive speed at the second level of a defense.

ATH Reese Taylor (12 games): No one had a more complicated season than Reese Taylor in 2018. The former Ben Davis quarterback came here as a defensive back, but once Brandon Dawkins left the program, IU announced that Taylor would be labeled a quarterback. But Taylor played cornerback, receiver, and running back in the season opener against Florida International, and seemed to have found a home at receiver until Michael Penix tore his ACL against Penn State. Thus, Taylor was rushed in as IU’s backup quarterback for the remainder of the year and subsequently limited in contributing at other positions because of it. Much attention was given to preparing Taylor as IU’s backup quarterback after Penn State, but where will he play in 2019? The Hoosiers sure could use him at slot receiver with the graduations of Luke Timian and J-Shun Harris. While Taylor did not record a carry in the final five games of the season, he appeared in all 12 games and will be a sophomore.

DB Jaylin Williams (12 games): Jaylin Williams made the earliest defensive impression. He played from the start, making three tackles in the season opener at Florida International and finishing the season with 22 tackles, two pass break-ups, and a sack. He was one of the freshmen that Allen identified during the summer and early fall, and it resulted in Williams playing every game in his first season. Indiana will have many options at cornerback next season, with Williams, Andre Brown, and Raheem Layne all returning. Assuming their commitments hold, in-state defensive back Larry Tracy and fringe 4-star prospect Tiawan Mullen will also compete for playing time. Allen has always wanted competition at positions such as cornerback, and he’ll have plenty of it starting in spring practice. Williams will have the benefit of incumbency.

LB Micah McFadden (12 games): McFadden emerged quickly at a linebacker position that was up-for-grabs in 2018. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound linebacker collected 20 tackles and forced a fumble as a true freshman. He played alongside LB Thomas Allen in high school at Plant (Fla.) and transitioned to Allen’s defense quite quickly. It will be interesting to see how the linebacker position plays out in 2019, but McFadden will surely be part of the mix, if not a starter.

TE Matt Bjorson (12 games): After Bjorson caught four passes in IU’s first three games, he appeared to have taken hold at the tight end position. But it was redshirt freshman Peyton Hendershot that was Indiana’s primary target at tight end — and once senior Ryan Watercutter returned from injury, Bjorson’s role diminished. He only recorded one catch in the final nine games of the season, but will likely split time with Hendershot next season in an increased role. Either way, Bjorson’s contributions as a true freshman will benefit the 6-foot-3 Hinsdale native in 2019.

DE James Head (11 games): James Head is the type of player that can become a difference maker for Indiana’s defensive line in the future. At 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, Head has the size and speed to become a solid Big Ten defensive end. Pressuring the quarterback is something IU has struggled with in recent years, and Head’s development is a priority for the program. He finished the year with 17 tackles, and three tackles for loss. Head was not a starter for Indiana this past season, but the Hoosiers graduate five defensive linemen and it would not be surprising to see Head start in 2019. After all, he chose IU over the likes of Michigan State, South Carolina, Baylor, NC State, and Mississippi State. It was clear from the beginning that Head was too valuable to limit him to four games and a redshirt.

Husky Cam Jones (11 games): As another option behind Marcelino Ball, freshman Cam Jones was more important for this Indiana defense than many might suggest. He battled injury throughout the year, missing the game against Rutgers after suffering an injury vs. Michigan State — a game in which Jones picked off Brian Lewerke and recovered a fumble. In fact, Jones proved to be explosive in terms of takeaways. He recovered a fumble against Ohio State, and forced another vs. Minnesota. He also forced a Dwayne Haskins interception by hitting him while Haskins released the ball. He is a versatile, game-changing player that Indiana could move to linebacker if needed. The Hoosiers were eighth in the country in takeaways this season, and Jones was a big reason why.

S Jamar Johnson (10 games): Jamar Johnson’s season was highlighted by an important interception at Rutgers early in the season. He finished the year with a pair of tackles as well. Johnson’s biggest asset is his versatility, as Tom Allen says that the 6-foot-1 defensive back can play all five positions in the secondary (both cornerbacks, both safeties, and husky). That’s impressive in itself, especially being able to play a unique position such as husky in Allen’s defense as a freshman. Considering Johnson, Jaylin Williams, Juwan Burgess, Cam Jones, and Devon Matthews … Indiana’s secondary appears to be in good hands for the near future, especially with it only losing longtime safety Jonathan Crawford.

S Devon Matthews (10 games): Matthews has the capability of being a longtime starter in Bloomington. He intercepted Dwayne Haskins in Columbus, recovered a fumble, and recorded 20 tackles in his true freshman season — none bigger than a goal line stand to end the half against Michigan and rob the Wolverines of points. Matthews is a hard-hitting, physical safety that quickly made an impression on head coach Tom Allen. Filling the shoes of Chase Dutra, it was Matthews who filled in almost flawlessly alongside Crawford, Juwan Burgess, and Khalil Bryant. The second half of 2018 was a frustrating, disappointing time for this IU program — but it can head into 2019 knowing the talent and potential it has in its secondary.

Ronnie Walker scores vs. Penn State (Mark Timko/HN)

RB Ronnie Walker Jr. (9 games): Staying in the backfield, Ronnie Walker Jr. will also be a sophomore next season. Despite Ricky Brookins and Mike Majette graduating, it could be a very crowded backfield in 2019. Talented incoming freshmen Sampson James and Ivory Jones will join Scott and Walker, plus rising junior Cole Gest who missed 2018 due to an ACL injury. Walker, meanwhile, showed flashes of explosion in his true freshman campaign. He finished with 32 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by an 18-yard touchdown against Ball State and explosive 30-yard score vs. Penn State. It seemed that Walker forced his way into burning a possible redshirt, but didn’t get many carries behind Scott. The speed is there, but it’s going to take more than 32 carries to learn more about Walker.

Returning as Redshirt Freshmen in 2019: (16)

QB Michael Penix Jr. (3 games): Would Indiana be preparing for a bowl game had Penix not torn his ACL against Penn State? Hard to say, given the small sample size that we were able to see with Indiana’s returning redshirt freshman quarterback. There are a few things that we know: his arm strength is uncanny, and he’s very effective in a dual-threat capacity as well. Penix showed that he can stretch the field and threaten secondaries at a better rate than Ramsey. Who will start in 2019? It depends on health, and if Penix is able to compete during the summer and early fall as he recovers from ACL surgery. In a sense, his injury bailed out IU’s staff on making a redshirt decision and possible quarterback change. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Ramsey starts two more seasons with Penix behind him, but who knows. Both are still young and have various pros and cons. The Hoosiers also appear to be interested in adding a quarterback to its 2019 recruiting class, which could complicate things even further. But with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, it makes sense for Indiana to do so. 6-foot-4, 3-star dual-threat David Baldwin-Griffin and former Louisville commit Jaden Johnson are two options that IU is pursuing heavily.

LB James Miller (3 games): Defensively speaking, Miller is the most important player that Allen and Indiana were able to redshirt. He has a very definite future as an IU starting linebacker, and the Hoosiers were able to give him playing time while still keeping a year of his eligibility. If anything, he is the clearest example of IU using the new redshirt rule to its advantage. Miller finished with three tackles on the season and played against Maryland, Minnesota, and started at Michigan. In 2019, Miller to compete for snaps at linebacker alongside Reakwon Jones and a combination of Thomas Allen, Micah McFadden, and T.D. Roof.

RB Kristian Pechac (3 games): Pechac is an interesting case. The Bloomington South product appeared in three games on special teams as a true freshman, and even traveled to Florida International for the season opener. Remember, he committed to IU on scholarship early in the recruiting process, de-committed, left the BSHS football team, and eventually joined the IU program as a walk-on after spending a semester at junior-college in Arizona. He was a sure-fire, Division-1 talent in high school and surely has the talent to produce at running back for Indiana. It’s interesting that IU used him so much on special teams in 2018, and he could become a staple there next season. But with Scott, Walker, and impressive incoming freshmen at running back, it’s hard to see Pechac breaking through at RB in 2019 unless there are departures elsewhere.

DE Madison Norris (1 game): A state champion in hurdles at in-state Hamilton Southeastern, Norris made one appearance this season against Maryland on special teams. As aforementioned with James Head, Indiana needs explosiveness, speed, and production from its defensive ends. It’s something the Hoosiers have lacked from years, and Norris certainly has the speed part of the equation. A full offseason will allow the 6-foot-5, 207-pound freshman to develop into a Big Ten defensive end and compete for snaps next season. Maintaining his redshirt seemed like a priority this season.

WR Miles Marshall (1 game): Marshall appeared in IU’s win at Rutgers, but that was all for the 6-foot-4 true freshman wideout. With a pair of receivers graduating, Marshall could see substantial playing time next season — although the likes of Westbrook, Hale, and Fryfogle are all expected to return as of now. Regardless, Marshall brings height and depth to the position and has been praised all season.

DL Shamar Jones (1 game): Jones played against Ball State, and the Pennsylvania native will benefit from an offseason in Bloomington. He is 6-foot-1 and 274 pounds — and with multiple departures at defensive tackle, Jones has an opportunity to fill the shoes of Robinson/Barwick/Samuels/Bowen in 2019. Keep an eye on him.

DB Noah Pierre (1 game): Pierre became the 17th true freshman to play in 2018 against Purdue. He will compete with Brown, Layne, and fellow freshmen next season at cornerback after maintaining his redshirt this past season.

DL Jonathan King, TE T.J. Ivy, WR Jacolby Hewitt, DB Jordan Jusevitch, LB Aaron Casey, OL Nick Marozas, OL Aidan Rafferty, DL Gavin McCabe, K Charles Campbell

These nine freshmen did not appear in 2018 and will be redshirted for 2019. There is a need for all involved. For King and McCabe, senior defensive linemen Nile Sykes, Jacob Robinson, Mike Barwick Jr., Kayton Samuels, and Ja’merez Bowen are graduating. For Ivy, senior tight end Ryan Watercutter is graduating and Austin Dorris announced that he will transfer. For Hewitt, senior receivers Luke Timian and J-Shun Harris are graduating. For Jusevitch, senior Jonathan Crawford is departing the secondary. For Casey, senior linebackers Dameon Willis Jr. and Michael McGinnis are departing. For Marozas and Rafferty, offensive linemen Brandon Knight, Nick Linder, Delroy Baker, and Wes Martin are done. DaVondre Love also announced his decision to graduate transfer. And for Campbell, his first full offseason as IU’s lone scholarship kicker could pose a threat to incumbent Logan Justus. Sophomore DT LeShaun Minor, who did not appear this season, will be able to redshirt the season and return as a sophomore in 2019.

Teddy Bailey

I am a senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, studying in IU’s School of Global and International Studies. Prior to joining The Hoosier Network, I spent two seasons covering IU Athletics for the Indianapolis Star alongside Zach Osterman after becoming the Sports Editor of the Indiana Daily Student as a freshman. While I found myself studying Italian in Florence this past summer, I interned with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017 — my hometown paper. In case you want to talk cheesesteaks or the Philadelphia 76ers, you can find me on Twitter, @ByTeddyBailey.

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