Note: Indiana football practice was closed to the media on both Saturday and Sunday. The following is some information gathered from interviews Friday talking more specifically in defensive terms.
The closer we get to Indiana football's season opener vs. Indiana State Aug. 29, the clearer things will look. For now practice looks like a game of musical chairs at many positions.
That could not apply more to the defense.
To co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In a way he's like a kid in candy store — there are a lot of enticing choices.
A word he continually used following practice Friday was "flexibility" because of the talent and depth he has to work with. A lot of that has to do with the highly-rated defensive recruits joining the team this year.
"Most kids just like we have in the last couple years — they're going to be thrown into the mix and thrown into the fire," Mallory said. "I think we went out into recruiting, those kids were talked about an opportunity to come in here and compete from day one, so we're going to give them that opportunity."
Chase Hoobler is out indefinitely with a stress fracture, so the linebacker situation has become fluid.
Redshirt junior David Cooper started all 12 games at middle linebacker last year, recording 86 tackles and nine tackles for loss. He may be moved to the outside to make room for 6-0, 240 pound T.J. Simmons, a true freshman.
"The good thing about Coop, too, is he's got the ability to be a good (middle) linebacker but I think he's got flexibility- he can bump out to an outside backer too if we had to do it," Mallory said. "He's smart enough and he's certainly athletic enough to do it."
Cooper said all of the freshman linebackers are talented and physical, but has liked what he has seen from Simmons.
"Sometimes I forget he's a freshman," Cooper said. "He fits right in."
While the linebacking corps has became thinner because of Hoobler's injury, the defensive line lost depth due to the graduation of mainstays Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle, and their backup, Nick Sliger.
Mallory said Latham's versatility is a plus.
"Darius Latham I think was playing more end today," Mallory said Friday. "You look at a guy with his size and ability, to have the flexibility to be athletic enough to play end and physical enough to play inside, that's a pretty good quality."
The secondary was perhaps Indiana's most-maligned unit within the defense last year, and it took a hit with Antonio Marshall's recent dismissal.
Junior Tim Bennett played safety during the spring and has been moved to corner. Mallory said Bennett's experience playing both positions will help him be a better corner.
"I think what he's able to do at least at the safety spot is getting him involved a little bit more in the run game and giving him the opportunity to be a little bit more physical," Mallory said. "Now all of a sudden you put him out there at corner. I think you've got a guy who worked all summer on his coverage skills playing from that spot.
"I think when you combine those two skills — if you can cover and you can hit —that's a pretty good corner."
Yet another four-star recruit in the secondary is freshman Rashard Fant. Mallory said Fant has good coverage, movement and change of direction skills, which are all good qualities for a corner.
The only question about Fant is his size: he checks in at 5-10 but just 165 pounds.
"Sometimes if you maybe have a slighter guy at corner, you may be able to put him in some positions where maybe he's not always not right always in the thick of the run game," Mallory said. "Sometimes you can take a guy like that if he's not the most physical guy you have and maybe play him as a field corner and kind of try to hide him a little bit."
Regardless of who ultimately starts where, this kind of uncertainty seems like a good problem for Mallory and the rest of the defensive coaches to have.
"There's just more names than what he had that I think are guys that all have a chance to play and help us out this year than maybe we had coming out of the spring."
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