BLOOMINGTON – While interceptions are nice, Indiana redshirt sophomore safety Bryant Fitzgerald also enjoys being able to lay a good, clean hit to a receiver coming across the middle.
“It’s definitely satisfying when you hear that crowd say, ‘Ooh’,” Fitzgerald said. “You know you did something good. You don’t see a yellow marker or a yellow flag next to you. It’s very satisfying.”
In the age of targeting, though, those hits are harder to come by. Since the 2013 season, opposing defenders who have hit defenseless offensive players above the shoulder and head area have been subject to ejection, an ejection that can carry into the first half of the following game if the penalty occurs in the second half.
The NCAA made a few minor tweaks to targeting calls this offseason. Targeting penalties subject to video review previously gave officials three options, to rule the call as confirmed, overturned or call stands. Now referees will no longer have the “call stands” option and will have to prove all criteria of targeting with indisputable video evidence for the call to be confirmed.
“They are trying to get away from, it still may be a penalty, but it’s not going to be ejection,” IU football coach Tom Allen said.
In a second offseason tweak, players who have committed three or more targeting penalties in a season will be subject to a one-game suspension, in addition to the in-game ejection. Last season, only three FBS players were ejected for targeting three times.
A record 221 targeting calls were upheld nationally in 2018, up slightly from the 211 upheld in 2017.
Last season, IU had a high-profile targeting ejection when sophomore linebacker Cam Jones came with his hands high and knocked over Michigan defensive back Berkley Edwards on a kickoff return play. Edwards had to be carted off the field following the hit. Jones sat out the first half of the following game against Purdue.
Allen and his staff have preached discipline when coaching defenders on tackling and avoiding targeting calls. Allen had his team watch videos with officials earlier this camp.
“We say, guys the bottom line is this, lower your target and that window which we call it the strike zone, you put all your force there,” Allen said. “You keep your head up and wrap up. It’s safe. It’s what’s good for the game on both sides of the ball.”
IU safeties coach Kasey Teegardin expects his position group to hit hard while playing within the rules.
“In our position, you want those big hits (when) the route is coming across the middle and things like that,” Teegardin said. “I do stress that relentless aggression and driving through with violence, if we strike somebody we want to drive through violently, but it’s all about the target zone. So we’re going to aim basically from the chest down.”
Targeting calls can get tricky, when judging intent or when an offensive player lowers his helmet.
“Very hard because your zone goes maybe from three feet to 12 inches, a foot, that zone compresses as they drop down,” Teegardin said.
Added IU senior safety Khalil Bryant: “They have the upper hand on us a little bit from that, but you gotta do what you’ve got to do to get him down on the ground.”
Bryant said it’s important for defensive players to adjust regardless of the situation.
“You’ve got to be very careful nowadays,” Bryant said. “What we are trying to do is just stay disciplined and keep our target zone lower so we can stay out of the head and neck area and we can avoid getting sent out of the game.”
EXTRA POINTS: IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said depth is starting to develop on the defensive line, an area of concern heading into camp. Wommack mentioned redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Alfred Bryant, sophomore JUCO transfer Demarcus Elliot, redshirt junior Tramar Reece and redshirt sophomore Shamar Jones as players who have raised their level of play in practices. “On our side of the ball that’s probably the most improved unit from where we were a season ago,” Wommack said. … Wommack said Bryant has earned the nickname “The Godfather” based on his experience compared to other players in IU’s secondary. "Khalil is like the godfather in that room,” Wommack said. “Everybody else is a redshirt sophomore or a freshman or whatever. He's the one they all look to. Khalil is not the most talented guy in that room, but he is the most productive because he knows where to put his eyes. He's seen so much, and he just makes plays. And Khalil is probably one of the most sure tacklers in my defense."