Fall Camp Preview: Strong Safety

With the start of IU's fall camp just six days away, HoosierNation.com continues its daily look at some of the top position battles that will be waged. One of those will be at strong safety, where Austin Thomas and J.T. Owens are both possibilities...

Bloomington, Ind. - It's no surprise that the Hoosier defense will count on one Lawrence North grad to anchor the defense.

But could they soon to leaning on two?

With the Hoosiers' fall camp set to open Monday, Coach Bill Lynch knows he'll be expecting big things from starting outside linebacker Will Patterson. But Patterson's high school teammate, J.T. Owens, could also challenge for significant playing time, if not a starting role.

A one-time walk-on, the 6-0, 207-pound Owens has climbed to No. 2 on the Hoosiers' depth chart at strong safety. He'll enter camp backing up fellow sophomore Austin Thomas, who recorded 49 tackles as a redshirt freshman.

But ever since arriving at IU along with his prep teammate last fall, Owens has continued to impress. He was one of the first true freshmen to earn playing time a year ago, contributing from the season's outset on special teams. He was among the team leaders with seven special teams stops a year ago, and had one big hit that forced a fumble and resulted in a touchdown return in the Hoosiers' loss to Wisconsin.

It's been quick ascent up the depth chart for Owens, who arrived at IU last fall as an invited walk-on from Lawrence North. A torn MCL during his senior season of high school had stymied Owens' chances of earning a scholarship out of high school, but he was one of five true freshmen to play in IU's season opener last fall and was one of the team's top special teams performers throughout the campaign.

Now, with the loss of safeties Troy Grosfield, Will Meyers and Eric McClurg from the '07 squad, Owens is expected to be a big factor in the Hoosiers' defensive plans as well. While it might be a stretch to think Owens would work his way into a potential starting spot this early, he said he knew that when he first decided to walk-on at IU, he'd get his chance.

"Indiana said that if I came here, there are no favorites and the best will play," Owens said. "(IU Assistant Coach Billy Lynch) told me I could eventually earn my scholarship."

Owens has done that, and now he's zeroing in on trying to secure a starting spot on the defense. His battle with Thomas should be one of the more hotly contested battles this fall. Thomas is considered a big hitter from the strong safety spot and is very good against the run. Owens' edge might come against the pass, where Thomas' struggles eventually prompted the staff to replace him with Troy Grosfield as a starter midway through the 2006 season.

Time will tell which one gets the starting nod when the season kicks off Sept. 1, but one of the biggest factors could be which one proves best able to avoid giving up the big play as the team's last line of defense.

"We have to do a better job of not giving up the big play," IU's co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic said. "That's going to be our emphasis going into the season, especially in the pass. We were susceptible to that last year. If we can prevent those big plays, stay in games, our offense can pull some games out for us."

Peegs.com Top Stories