Tony Fields hasn't let down. The 5-foot-11, 203-pound junior safety from Tallahassee, Florida was honored with a post-spring MVP award for his play at safety.
"Spring ball was most definitely a confidence booster," Fields said to Peegs.com this month. "It took some time but I finally got my mindset right so I could show everything I have."
It wasn't like it was his first opportunity to play. In 2015 as a sophomore he was out there for all 13 games. He made 19 tackles, 15 solo, and made one of the biggest plays of the season, a 20-yard interception touchdown return at Wake Forest.
But he knows his performance this spring was at another level.
"On the field I was tackling in space better, taking better angles," Fields said. "This offseason I have been working on my speed and (think) I am a lot faster. Honestly what helped was trusting my instincts. When I was younger I knew what to do but I didn't trust it."
This week we caught up with Noah Joseph, the Hoosier coach in charge of the safeties. It certainly sounds as if Fields has only built upon his spring play in the first two weeks of fall camp.
"He's been great," Joseph said. "The biggest thing with him is he has belief and trust in himself. He has belief and trust in us as coaches and just playing with a lot of confidence. He doesn't think (too much), he sees something and he's going. Been very pleased with him."
Fields began camp listed behind Chase Dutra's spot at safety. He's been out more with the first team than Dutra as last year as the redshirt junior from Brownsburg recovers from a lisfranc foot injury that held him out of the spring. Dutra is participating in fall camp, but has been limited for precautionary reasons.
The other returning starter at safety is Jonathan Crawford. Just a sophomore, Crawford talked about how Fields stood out in the spring.
"He stepped up a lot and I think he'll do really well this season," Crawford said. "Deflections, picks, he was doing everything you need to do as a DB."
Add in the fact that three other safeties with experience, Kiante Walton (6'2, 215), Jameel Cook (6'1, 201) and Zeke Walker (6'2, 215), are all back from 2015 injuries, depth is not an issue.
"I feel like we have the deepest position in the Big Ten. Every guy can play," Fields said.
And there's two key leaders this month.
"Chase Dutra and Tony Fields," Crawford said. "Chase has always been vocal, at least as long as I have been here. Tony Fields kind of rose up this spring. He had more confidence in his play, being more dominant. I think that is where it came from."
Depth and leadership at safety should help as Indiana implements new defensive coordinator Tom Allen's 4-2-5 alignment. That essentially puts a big third safety on the field at a new "husky" spot. Walker along with junior college transfer Jayme Thompson (6'2, 191) and surprising freshman Marcelino Ball (6'0, 209) have been mentioned as serious candidates. With Thompson nursing a turf toe injury this month, junior Ben Bach (6'1, 197) has split time between husky and corner.
Fields has confidence in the 4-2-5 and overall approach from Allen.
"A year ago we were too unsure, we didn't trust the defense. Didn't trust this, didn't trust that., let alone each other," Fields said. "Now I think we're more of a brotherhood, spent a lot more time together on and off the field."