IU football freshman Dasan McCullough showed versatility in Week 1

BLOOMINGTON – In his very first college play, Dasan McCullough confirmed the Indiana coaching staff’s belief that he could make an impact no matter where they put him on the football field, as long as he could play.

The freshman who played at Bloomington South last season worked at Bull’s position, but was technically lined up as an inside linebacker behind a front three on 3rd-and-6 at IU 45 during the Illinois’ first possession. He was standing just behind the line of scrimmage to the left of IU defensive end Beau Robbins, directly across from Illinois left guard Jordyn Slaughter.

In the snap, McCullough rushed to the middle, forcing Slaughter to go right to collect it. While McCullough had Slaughter busy, IU lead linebacker Cam Jones executed a bit of a delayed blitz, starting across from Illinois’ right guard, then running behind the nose tackle, around the right side from Slaughter and was barely touched on his way to get a free kick. on Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito. Slaughter passed McCullough in the middle, but McCullough knocked him down and helped finish the sack. Jones was credited with a full sack and McCullough technically didn’t get a piece of it, but the Hoosiers forced a punt.

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“He took guard and smoked the center, and if Cam doesn’t make it, he sacks it,” Bulls coach Kasey Teegardin said. “…What makes him so effective is his length and his explosiveness. That first step was so quick, this guard has to honor it. He goes, ‘Oh, shoot.’ He’s in your face and then he’s so quick to redirect and pin and get vertical. It’s tough when you have a long, athletic guy like that to block him.

It was arguably the most important piece of McCullough’s debut, but it wasn’t the only one. He finished with six tackles including two solo saves and a half tackle for loss in the Hoosiers 23-20 season-opening winand that production came at three different positions — outside linebacker on the core staff, Bull and Husky, the linebacker/safety hybrid spot.

“We moved him a lot,” defensive coordinator Chad Wilt said. “We always try to be careful what we can put on him, what we can ask him to do. He’s still a freshman… But he’s got talent. We’re going to keep putting him in positions to play on the edge, play with an edge and be a playmaker.”

From McCullough committed to IU in April 2021 there have been storylines as to where exactly the Hoosiers would play him because he can play just about anywhere on defense. In his football career dating back to his younger years in football, the 6-5, 230-pounder has played in every defensive position but defensive tackle. During his first three years at Blue Valley North High School in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kan., he played center and outside linebacker as well as free safety and a hybrid cornerback/safety position. During his senior year at South, he played outside linebacker in the Panthers’ 3-4 scheme. His height and athleticism have made him a sought-after rookie, a four-star and the 75th overall player in the Class of 2022 according to 247Sports.com rankings. According to these rankings, McCullough is the highest-rated IU recruit from the recruiting services era, which dates back to 2000.

And this offseason, at least off the schedule, there was some intrigue over whether McCullough would play for IU. His father Deland had been the running backs coach at IU from 2011 to 2016, left to coach at USC and then for the Kansas City Chiefs, then returned in 2021 to take over the position of running backs coach at IU with a additional Associate Head Coach title. . A few months after making this move, Dasan and his younger brother Daeh committed to Indiana, and their older brother Deland Jr. transferred from Miami, Ohio.

So when Deland left in February to take up the running backs coaching position at Notre Dame, there was immediate speculation that his boys would join him or at least leave IU. Daeh, a Class of 2023 cornerback, opted out and, in a slightly surprising move, picked Cincinnati. Deland Jr. is still at IU, but in July decided to retire from football due to injury, taking a medical hardship waiver.

Dasan, however, said he never considered moving.

“I didn’t commit to IU for my father or for my brother, per se,” he said. “I joined because I love this program and what coach (Tom) Allen is doing here. When they left, nothing really changed in my mindset. I just kept going stronger , and you see what happens now.”

Along with his father’s departure, the Hoosiers also lost defensive coordinator Charlton Warren to North Carolina. By the time McCullough signed in December, Warren had asked McCullough to start his career at Stinger, the linebacker position currently held by Jones.

And when McCullough arrived, that’s where the Hoosiers put him initially, in part so they could put him in midfield and help him digest the entirety of Allen’s defensive scheme. He didn’t do much spring training due to a shoulder injury, but spent his time in linebacker meetings with Wilt, which helped him take it all in.

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Indiana's Cam Jones (4) and Dasan McCullough (0) celebrate their dismissal of Illinois' Tommy DeVito (3) during the Indiana vs. Illinois football game at Memorial Stadium on Friday, September 2, 2022.

But as preseason camp began in August, it became clear the Hoosiers needed to have McCullough on the pitch as much as possible because he was not only gifted, but also physically and mentally mature. While long and lean enough to tuck in and cover wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends on passing patterns, he’s also powerful. It showed the Hoosiers they could trust him to win fights with offensive linemen.

“The first time he hit a sled, I was shocked at how powerful he was,” Teegardin said. “…He’s got strong physical hands. His punch is great, which is great for him because he’s got long arms. So he’s going to be able to create an extension with the hard punch and hand, and then keep the extension with his length. Every O lineman in this conference is cheating and holding the crap out of us, and now he can create that extension on these guys and be able to play with blocks.”

Thus, the Hoosiers asked McCullough to work with the Bulls, the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive ends group, with the understanding that he would move around and not be fully held there. He’s behind sixth-year senior Alfred Lance Bryant and UCLA transfer Myles Jackson, but IU coaches have made it clear to him that he’ll get plenty of playing time with the Hoosiers changing sides and using many rotations. They also made it clear to him that he could play other positions in defense, getting some level of linebacker and Husky work, and that they would do what they could to make the most of his gifts. .

“With its length and its athleticism, we were going to enjoy it somewhere,” Teegardin said. “We originally thought we’d put him in that linebacker position, but you have to get your best 11 on the field. He’s one of our best 11s. So you have to fabricate and find ways to involve him. That means multiple packages, play limit, playfield, blitz, do a lot of different things We haven’t designed a package specifically for him, but we’ve tailored a lot around what he’s good at and what what he can do for us to help the football the team win games. And that keeps C4 (Jones) on the pitch, who is arguably our best defensive player. That’s the way to maximize the arrival of our best players on the field.

Although moving around demands more of McCullough now that he’s playing full teams of other players of his caliber, he was still comfortable with movement due to all the changes he had to make in high school. Although his father coaches on the other side of the ball, a life around the Xs and O’s makes McCullough a quick study, and he’s more comfortable around the coaching staff than an average freshman. Cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby was on former coach Kevin Wilson’s first team with Deland, so they first met when Dasan was 8. Teegaardin first joined the program as a graduate assistant in 2014, so he has known Dasan since he was 11. as elders, but he relates to them as if dragged down by a collection of his uncles.

“He already has basic knowledge, he wants to be trained hard and he wants to be challenged,” Teegardin said. “And if he doesn’t understand something, he’s not afraid to ask. Other guys can say, ‘I don’t want the coach to think less of me. It’s not his mentality.”

Indiana's Dasan McCullough (0) during the first open practice of the 2022 season at Indiana University Practice Center on Tuesday August 2, 2022.

McCullough also sees how the modern game tends to know that the more positions it can play, the better off it is. Particularly in the era of attack spread, offenses are a collection of big, strong, and fast athletes and defenses need to be able to match players of similar size and speed.

“I love playing all those positions,” said McCullough, whose deep baritone voice adds to the sense that he’s a man beyond his 19s. “I love playing everywhere. I feel like that’s where I’m most valuable.”

McCullough said he was comfortable rebounding as long as the Hoosiers needed it. If Indiana has any idea of ​​his long-term position home, the staff hasn’t told him what it is yet and it’s perfectly fine not to know.

“I think I’m most valuable where you can put me as the missing piece of the puzzle,” McCullough said. “It can be a weekly thing when you look at their team personnel. I might play a different position every week. It really depends. Long term, I don’t know their plans. It’s something you would have for ask them. But starting this year, I’m doing everything I can to help.