Indiana was a perfect dichotomy last season. For everything they were great at on offense, they were equally as awful at on defense. That was the bad news. However the good news is with as bad as they were defensively there is no where to go but up for the Hoosiers defense in 2013.
The other good news? 2012 saw a ton of young players get playing time. That's just about it though as this team finished last in scoring defense, total defense, and rushing defense. Indiana managed to fair just a bit better in the passing game, ranking 9th in pass defense.
So the picture wasn't very pretty last season, but that is history and looking forward is what we are about now. With nine starters returning one has to wonder if 2013 can provide the answers needed defensively for this team to make the leap to bowl eligibility? If not, does this team regress and what does that say about Kevin Wilson's tenure in Bloomington?
Let's dive into the defense for some of those answers, shall we?
The only two players gone off of last year's defense happen to come along the D-Line and that's a problem, especially since the two were the best players this defense had last year in DT's Adam Replogle and Larry Black, Jr. It means that coming into this season I've ranked this unit dead last amongst its companions incoming freshman and four star recruit, Darius Latham, will need to step and be a player for them from the get go and along with fellow incoming frosh David Kenney (DE) they could actually be the two most athletic and best defensive lineman. The question for them is if they can pick things up quickly enough to see significant minutes right out of the gate.
If not, expect the likes of huge redshirt freshman Ralphael Green (6'5", 312lbs.) and Adarius Rayner to be options up the middle. Neither are super athletic, but both could be massive space eaters and frankly that alone would be a huge help against the run at a minimum.
Starting on the outside are the returning duo of Ryan Phillis and Zack Shaw. Phillis is about the closest thing possible to a pass rusher this team has coming back with his whole 3 sacks from a season ago. Shaw has some promise to him as well and this could be the year he breaks out after recording 29 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks in just his freshman season.
If this part of the defensive unit is going to make a jump and help this team get to a bowl game it'll have to be the combination of young players getting better from a season ago and the incoming youth proving their worth quickly.
Indiana's linebackers ranked 10th in our preseason positional rankings (courtesy of this writer) and a lot of it had to do with how horrible this team was in total at just about everything. Let's face it, the linebackers have a hand in helping in every area of the defense. However, 2012 saw two JUCO linebackers coming on board and one flopped a bit, while the other played great. The former is David Cooper who was 2nd on the team in tackles with 86 and the latter is Jacarri Alexander who had 30 tackles and 3 tackles for loss in 6 games of action. Alexander has just this season to get things right, while Cooper is just a junior. Up the middle will be Griffin Dahlstrom who is about the definition of unspectacular as you can get, yet managed to finish 3rd on the team in tackles for loss with 7 last season.
Alexander may not end up being the starter when it's all said and done as now junior Chase Hoobler presented some promise and no matter his title, he'll see plenty of playing time this season. I fully expect to see him in the starting lineup come the season opener against Indiana State on August 29th.
When you're looking to get better fast one of the best ways is to go the JUCO route and Wilson has done that every season so far, including this one as Steven Funderburk could be a guy that makes the rotation at weakside and is a name I'd be keeping an eye on. Flo Hardin and T.J. Simmons are likely options in the two deep (if you can call it that on this defense).
This was the one shining unit last season and it could be even better this year as the safety duo of Greg Heban and Mark Murphy are two of the better in the conference. Heban led the team in tackles last season with 91, while also having 11 passes defensed and coming up with 3 interceptions. Murphy is assignment sure and a heavy hitter, something he has in common with Heban. In his two seasons as a starter Murphy has racked up 146 tackles – putting him well on his way to breaking records if he stays healthy.
At corner you have Antonio Marshall, who was a breath of fresh air as a JUCO transfer last season, finishing with 38 tackle and 2 interceptions. He's got great vision and an ability to work hard on comeback plays. His motor is always running and that's exactly what this flexible defense needed on the outside. Next to him you can expect the duo of Michael Thompson and Ryan Hunter to continue sharing the duties.
You may not know the name of Hunter without looking it up and that's because he didn't play last season, but he had the talent to start as a freshman two years ago. Look for him to eventually win more playing time.
A name to really watch for is outstanding recruit Antonio Allen. Allen is one of the best recruits Wilson and Co. got in the 2013 class and it shouldn't surprise anyone to find him in the mix at safety to help Heban and Murphy lighten their loads a bit. Overall this position has enough depth and talent to be a top 6 group on it's own, however they'll need some help from up front to realize that potential.
Questions to answer in fall camp:
– Will a pass rush actually emerge?
– Can a year of experience make this linebacker Corp better against the pass?
– When will youth turn from potential to solid?