Bloomington – If Austin Thomas' right leg injury keeps him from playing Saturday night against Ball State, senior Joe Kleinsmith will be the choice to start in his place.
IU Coach Bill Lynch referred to Thomas' availability as a "game time decision" Wednesday night, but was definitive that Kleinsmith would start if Thomas is unable to go. Kleinsmith has been the team's No. 2 free safety throughout the fall behind Nick Polk, but slid over to strong safety at the start of the week after Thomas' injury.
"Joe has done a little bit of everything while he's been here, so we have a lot of confidence in him," Lynch said.
Some had thought that Thomas' injury would present an opportunity for sophomore Jerimy Finch to crack the starting line-up, since he's been listed as the No. 2 strong safety. Lynch said Finch would be on the field Saturday and could very well be the team's nickel back, but Kleinsmith's experience and knowledge of the IU defense made him the logical choice to replace Thomas on the No. 1 unit.
Kleinsmith said he's looking forward to the chance to play a bigger role this weekend.
"I'm excited to finally get my chance," Kleinsmith said. "It's unfortunate this is the way it had to happen with Austin going down, but I'm excited."
While Kleinsmith has only one start to his credit, he has seen plenty of action during the last two seasons in the secondary. He was a second-string safety in each of the past two seasons and saw action in nickel situations, recording 19 tackles in 2007 and 12 in 2006.
He will be playing the strong safety instead of the free safety spot, but both he and Lynch said that move is inconsequential.
"For a senior (making the move from free safety to strong safety) doesn't take a lot," Lynch said. "It's a little like on the offensive line if the right guard goes and flips and plays left guard or the right tackle goes and plays left tackle. When you have seniors who have played as much football as Joe, we're not concerned about that."
The IU staff also doesn't seem overly concerned about what Thomas' absence will mean for the defense. While they'd love to have their leading tackler from last year ready to go, they also have developed the sort of depth at safety and other spots on the field that enable the team to be able to withstand an injury or two.
"Having depth helps a lot," Kleinsmith said. "People know what they're doing, especially with Finch coming in. He's learning everything and it's going to help us in the long run. The more depth you have the easier it's going to be on everyone if someone goes down."
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Kleinsmith Will Start If Thomas Can't Go
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