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Defensive experience, depth becoming evident to Tom Allen during Indiana fall camp

On Monday morning, Tom Allen didn’t let grey skies and rain slow down Indiana’s second week of fall camp. In fact, Allen welcomed the slick conditions. 

The former special teams coordinator at Wabash College and Ole Miss knows the importance of being able to stay composed during varying weather patterns. 

So Allen took advantage of the rain. He put his team through wet ball conditions on offense and defense. And what he emphasized the most was special teams, where his players got repetitions punting and kicking field goals through the rain.

“I had a chance to be out in the rain,” Allen said Monday afternoon, “which is invaluable.”

The first few days of fall camp have mostly consisted of implementing Indiana’s schemes on both sides of the ball. Even with new players getting acclimated to Indiana’s system, Allen said they’ve been able to go three deep in drills, a testament to the experience of the team.

“It’s obvious that the depth has been different in the past,” Allen said.

The Hoosiers’ returning talent is especially evident on the defensive side, where nine starters  are back from last season. Allen has already seen significant growth from a variety of those returnees, who were part of the top red zone defense in the nation last season and figure to play a large part of Indiana’s potential success again this season.

The backbone of Indiana’s defense is the linebacker corps, which is largely regarded as one of the best in the Big Ten and whose depth as a position group is arguably the best on the roster.

“They’ve got to run that side of the football,” Allen said. “I’m talking making calls, I’m talking about in the locker room, in the film room and when he have meetings. Walkthroughs, they set the tone.”

The group is highlighted by seniors Micah McFadden and Cam Jones, both of whom were captains last season. McFadden is coming off a second team All-American season, where he recorded 58 tackles and six sacks. Jones was All-Big Ten honorable mention. Allen has seen them both make strides this summer.

“Cam Jones has gotten thicker and looks really good physically,” Allen said. “I think that Micah has just continued to keep getting better physically.”

Indiana is also returning a bevy of rotational pieces at linebacker, including juniors Aaron Casey and James Miller, who appeared in all eight games last season. The Hoosiers are also getting back Thomas Allen, who suffered a season-ending hip injury against Michigan State. Tom Allen also named Cam Williams, Ty Wise and Matt Hohlt as players who have impressed.

“I’ve always said that you’re only as good as your linebackers defensively,” Allen said. “They’re not just great players, they’re great people. They’re great leaders. They’re not afraid to speak and there’s a bunch of them.”

Outside of the linebackers, one of Indiana’s most talented defensive players is junior defensive back Tiawan Mullen, who has been the emotional heartbeat of the team since he arrived three years ago. He’s coming off of an All-American campaign as a junior, where he led the team in interceptions.

But arguably Mullen’s most glaring weakness has been his physicality. Coming out of high school, he was listed at just 160 pounds. Now, according to IU’s roster, he’s 180 pounds.

What changed? He’s worked hard with strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman this summer. He’s made sure to get enough sleep and stay hydrated. He’s been eating four to five meals per day, including his favorite of chicken alfredo. 

“He’s gotten stronger and a step quicker with short bursts,” Allen said. “… He’s busted his tail in the weight room and it shows.”

One key piece of the defense that wasn’t around last season was Marcelino McCrary-Ball, the embodiment of Indiana’s experience, whose career at Indiana has taken its turns. He arrived at Indiana in 2016, where he had a stellar freshman season before suffering a season-ending injury as a sophomore. He followed it with two dominant campaigns, but then tore his ACL during practice last fall.

McCrary-Ball, who is now back practicing, will likely take his starting spot back at the Husky. It would provide an upgrade to Bryant Fitzgerald, who had an underwhelming season last year in place of Ball.

“Been able to see him be pretty physical in terms of planting and cutting,” Allen said of McCrary-Ball. “He looks pretty good. It’s just a matter of confidence in that knee.”

With many revolving pieces on offense and the durability of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. in question, Indiana’s defense will again need to be reliable. Early in fall camp, it appears that the defense is headed in the right direction.

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