Apr. 21—In the recent past, most of Indiana State’s best defenses have been anchored around one of the many excellent linebackers the Sycamores have had, or, an elite pass-rusher, such as Ben Obaseki or Connor Underwood.
ISU certainly believes in its defensive line for the 2021 season and it’s hoping to develop linebackers that live up to the legacy of Jonas Griffith, Jameer Thurman and so many others, but this might be the year to look to the back of ISU’s defense to find it’s strength and it’s greatest depth.
ISU has also had good secondary players over the years, but the depth the Sycamores can bring at both the safety and cornerback spots is enviable.
First? There’s the sheer size of the secondary core. Twenty players are currently listed as defensive backs on the ISU roster. Considering there’s a base of four DBs with no more than six usually on the field in any one formation, that’s a lot of personnel in that spot.
Then the experience is taken into account. Safety Michael Thomas, who started out as a wide receiver, has a season and an extended offseason of playing on the defensive side. Fellow safety Kaelub Newman has played 20 career games for the Sycamores. Cornerback Mekhi Ware has started for two seasons.
Several other defensive backs — Ty Hambright, Anthony Tucker Jr., Dwayne Thompson II, C.J. Rutherford — have also played and started several games.
It’s a deep group and they’re hoping it shows on the field next fall.
“I think that experience is meaningful and profitable. Mekhi sees everything out there and he does a great job of communicating well and so does Ty. With more experience? It feels like a safety blanket. We know what to do and we’re making sure everyone else knows we’re on task,” Thomas said.
It’s always important to have experience, but when a team hasn’t seen the field in nearly two years, which is the case for ISU by the time it will play its 2021 opener against Eastern Illinois, experience and depth provides a security blanket money can’t buy. Certainly, if ISU had a questionable secondary that hadn’t seen a snap in anger over the same period of time, there would be considerably more concern.
“The experience will definitely help with a lot of guys who have played a lot of football. They all understood, too, that we’d have to scrimmage and this would be a physical camp. They understood that being an older group,” ISU coach Curt Mallory said.
There’s a little bit of everything in ISU’s secondary. Thomas has the speed to close down receivers and tip away balls to would-be pass catchers. Newman can hit. Ware can be physical and is a good cover corner.
They provide leadership too.
“We have the type of chemistry where guys are coaching and correcting each other and that it’s for the better of the team and each other. One thing about our identity is to swarm to the ball and play with relentless effort. We have a lot of guys who are instinctual players and have a lot of talent. We slow our mindset by knowing the playbook and flying around,” said ISU defensive back Nehemiah Montague, still another option in the ISU arsenal.
With depth comes competition and even though three of the four starting spots are taken up by returning starters, that doesn’t mean anyone can rest on their laurels. Thomas was asked who is thriving in the secondary competition.
“One big one who comes to my mind is Johnathan Edwards. He’s done a really good job at the boundary corner. Nehemiah [Montague], Dwayne [Thompson] and Hunter [Lunsford] have done a good job. There’s been a lot of opportunities that have happened throughout spring ball,” Thomas said.
“We’ve got some other guys in the mix. I’ve been impressed with Johnathan Edwards as a freshman. We think he’ll be good. We have transfers in Cornelius Doe and J.J. Henderson. They’ve done a great job. We also have J.P. Osafo, who walked on, but we’ve put on scholarship. I’ve been pleased with those guys,” Mallory said.
It’s easy to forget, given the passage of time, that ISU was second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in pass defense in 2019. The Sycamores are hoping the experience they have back ensures that ISU will be tough to pass against again in 2021.