Big Ten Breakdown 2012: Indiana Hoosiers, Part 3: Defense
I began by taking a broad overview of the Indiana program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Hoosiers will do this season.
Last week, I looked at the 2012 Indiana offense and what it projects to look like.
This week, I'll look at the 2012 Indiana defense.
2011 scoring defense: 37.3 PPG (12th in the conference), total defense: 458.7 YPG (12th), rushing defense: 5.30 YPC (12th), passing efficiency allowed: 156.79 (12th)
Average scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: 10.4
Best scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: ninth (2007)
Worst scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: 12th and 11th (2011 and 2008)
Returning starters: DL Larry Black, Jr., DL Bobby Richardson, DT Adam Replogle, DE Ryan Phillis, LB Chase Hoobler, CB Greg Heban, CB Lawrence Barnett, S Mark Murphy
Open positions: LB, S
Defensive formation: 4-3
Defensive philosophy: moderate
Kevin Wilson went into his new job with an understanding of what was needed to bring success to Bloomington: defense.
In effect, he hired five defensive coaches to go with four offensive coaches, when most coaching staffs go in the opposite direction.
He hired Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler as co-coordinators. Before last season, I questioned the hiring of Mallory given his track record—he had been the New Mexico defensive coordinator for two years. Both of those squads were amongst the bottom 10 in the country. With the 2011 Indiana D now on his resume, he is 3-of-3.
Both Mallory and Ekeler are still in place, and the Hoosiers will attempt to pick up the pieces of the No. 114 scoring defense in the country.
It seems that player development will not be the focus next year, given that Indiana signed five defensive JUCO transfers in its 2012 recruiting class.
Either way, IU has had six different head coaches since 1993, which was the last year opponents scored fewer than 25 PPG against the Hoosiers.
Given last season's ineptitude, it's hard to imagine Indiana's opponents failing to break the 25-PPG mark in 2012.
Indiana returns all but one key contributor to its defensive line and two multi-year starters inside, so that's a good thing, yes?
Maybe not, when one considers that IU allowed 5.30 YPC in 2011. That was 114th in the country. To put that in perspective, for every one yard the Michigan State rush defense—the best in the conference and seventh in the country—allowed last year, Indiana let up almost two.
The Hoosiers also had the second-fewest sacks in the Big Ten.
Amongst the returning players are two multi-year starters in the middle: seniors Adam Replogle and Larry Black, Jr.
Black is a utility man that has moved inside and out during his career; however, given his size—6'2", 305 pounds—he is most suited for run stuffing. Meanwhile, Repogle is faster and is the better pass-rusher of the two. He led last year's Hoosiers with four sacks.
The returning ends are sophomores Ryan Phillis and Bobby Richardson. Phillis is a converted linebacker that needs to use his speed to beat tackles, as he's undersized—6'3", 244 pounds.
At just over 270 pounds, Richardson can play inside or out. Last year, he became the starting strong-side end where he had a team second-best three sacks. The future should be bright for Richardson, but he is probably a year away from being a high-impact player.
Other players in the mix at end include junior Javon Cornley, who started two games in 2011, and JUCO-transfer Justin Rayside. At defensive tackle, senior Nicholas Sliger will press for playing time.
This season, the Indiana defensive line will take some steps forward, but it won't be as formidable as one would expect given its returning experience.
Last season, with two experienced starters, head coach Kevin Wilson preferred to employ nickel and dime packages, as opposed to traditional 4-3 looks.
This year, those two starters are gone and Wilson has looked for, and presumably found, help from the JUCO ranks, bringing in Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper.
Alexander is a junior that comes from Iowa Central Community College, where he split time between linebacker and defensive end. He will compete for playing time on the weak side.
Cooper will be a sophomore. He comes from Coffeyville (KS) Community College, where he played a more traditional linebacker role than did Alexander. Look for Cooper to compete for playing time at middle linebacker.
The Hoosiers' lone returning linebacker is sophomore Chase Hoobler. Last season, he started on the strong side, where he will likely end up this season.
Junior Griffen Dahlstrom earned playing time on special teams last season, while sophomore Jake Michalek grabbed one start as an undersized and out-of-position defensive end. Both will compete for a starting job.
Otherwise, a hodgepodge of inexperienced players will look to make names for themselves.
Don't expect much, if any, improvement from the IU linebacking corps, though it will receive help from an improved front four.
The Big Ten's worst pass defense—No. 116 in the country—returns most of its key defensive backs.
However, head coach Kevin Wilson isn't taking any chances. He dug into the JUCO pool and came up with Tregg Waters and Ryan Thompson, both of whom will compete for immediate playing time. Both can play safety or cornerback, though each physically resembles the latter.
The two key returning cornerbacks are juniors Lawrence Barnett and former walk-on Greg Heban. Sophomores Michael Hunter and Kenny Mullen also gained playing time last year and will push for a starting spot in 2012.
Last season, IU started seven different players at the two safety positions. Four of those players return in 2012: senior Alexander Webb and sophomores Mark Murphy, Drew Hardin and Forisse Hardin.
Wilson likes using a number of nickel and dime packages. In fact, he started a fifth and/or sixth defensive back in lieu of a linebacker five times last season. One has to wonder if that was because he had no confidence in his linebackers or because he didn't realize he was no longer in the pass-happy Big 12.
Either way, expect the Indiana secondary to take some steps forward this season. Greg Heban proved himself to be a solid, if unspectacular cornerback, and Wilson is sure to find at least three other decent defensive backs, given all the players jockeying for a place on the depth chart.
Last season, the Indiana defense was a train wreck. It finished at the bottom of the conference in every key statistic and was near the bottom of the country in most.
This season, there looks to be improvement, but anything is an improvement over 37.3 PPG allowed, which was the worst Big Ten scoring defense since 2005 Illinois let up 39.5 PPG.
The 2012 IU defense will still be lousy, but it will be notably better than its 2011 counterpart.
This defense will not raise itself up to middle-of-the-pack status, but it won't be the unquestioned bottom of the conference. In effect, it should be good enough to keep what should be sacrificial lambs such as Massachusetts, Indiana State and Ball State at bay—something the 2011 defense would have had trouble doing.
It will also be good enough to keep the Hoosiers in games against mid-tier conference teams, though it will be up to the offense to win the games.
Coming next Tuesday, an overview and breakdown of Indiana's specialists, schedule, recruiting class and a prediction as to where I think the Hoosiers will finish the 2012 season.
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