Big Ten Breakdown: Indiana Hoosiers, Part 2 (Defense and Specialists)

David Fidler Correspondent IApril 26, 2011

Big Ten Breakdown: Indiana Hoosiers, Part 1 (Overview and Offense)


Defensive Overview: 2010 scoring defense: 34 PPG (10th in the conference), total defense: 410.2 YPG (9), rushing defense: 5.07 YPC (9), passing efficiency allowed: 156.50 (11).

Average scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: 10.2

Best scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: Ninth (2007)

Worst scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: 11th (2006 and 2008)

Returning starters: DL Larry Black Jr., DL Adam Repogle, DT Mick Mentzer, DE Darius Johnson, LB Leon Beckum, MLB Jeff Thomas, LB Chad Sherer, CB Greg Heban, S Donnell Jones

Open Positions: CB, S


Defensive Breakdown: Obviously, it's difficult to make any sort of forecast when one has no real background on the coaches involved.

Wilson's background is purely offense, but his staff does have a defensive emphasis. He realizes that the Hoosiers have had good offenses for the past two decades; they have been held back by atrocious defense. He knows that he will have to turn that around if he expects to find success in Bloomington.

Given his background, one has to assume that he will leave the defensive playcalling up to his defensive co-coordinators. Those coordinators are Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory.

Both coaches have worked for winning programs, and both have plenty of connections to the Midwest and the Big Ten.

Ekeler was a linebacker coach under Bo Pelini at Nebraska. He has never been a coordinator. Mallory made stops in a number of places, but his most successful stint was as a defensive backs coach at LSU from 2005-2008 (and co-coordinator in '08).

He was most recently the defensive coordinator at New Mexico (2009-10), and the results were, uh, terrible. Last year, his defense ranked dead last in scoring in the country. The year before, they were 113th.

It would be easy to write these results off as being par for the course at New Mexico, but the Lobos had  top 50 defenses the two years before Mallory and head coach Mike Locksley's arrival. They were No. 14 in the country in 2007.

I'm not saying that Mallory cannot be a quality defensive coordinator; I'm simply saying that his time at New Mexico doesn't inspire confidence.

Given this, and given the fact that Indiana has allowed more than 25 points per game every season since 1993, it's probably safe to assume that this year's defense, despite a good deal of returning experience, won't be very good.

The question, therefore, concerns the degree of inability.


Defensive Line: The Hoosiers will continue to run a 4-3, though last year they did experiment a bit with a 3-4. It remains to be seen what Mallory and Ekeler choose to do.

They've got four returning linemen with substantial starting experience and a fifth lineman that is something of a journeyman.

The four returning starters are senior defensive end Darius Johnson, junior defensive tackles Adam Repogle and Mick Mentzer, and junior lineman Larry Black Jr., who has started both inside and out. The journeyman is senior Fred Jones.

In short, the experience is there, but how much does that mean?

Perhaps not that much, as Indiana's starting front four for the spring game were: Johnson, Repogle, Black and redshirt freshman Ryan Phillis.

As both Mentzer and Jones were regularly rotated into the spring game, one has to assume Phillis is that good, or Wilson and his coordinators are unimpressed with the upperclassmen.

Also of note is junior Nick Sliger, who started one game last season and got plenty of spring game reps at defensive tackle.

As the statistics indicate, last year's rush defense was flimsy and that began with the defensive line.

The 2010 line had to replace three starters. This season, the line will get most of its experience back. In effect, there will be palpable improvements against the rush. They won't be a steel wall, but they'll be formidable.

I can't say the same for the pass defense. A large part of the reason IU had such a weak pass defense in 2010 was because there was no pass rush. The Hoosiers ranked second-to-last in the conference in sacks.

Johnson led the team in sacks with 4.5. He is a legitimate threat off the edge, but unless Indiana finds somebody else that can consistently get to the quarterback, it will be easy enough for teams to double-team Johnson, thereby nullifying him.

The line's job will be magnified by what looks to be a fairly bad secondary. If somebody doesn't get to the opposing quarterback quickly, odds are pretty good that the opposing receiver will get open.

Overall, this is not a bad line. They should be technically sound, which is the advantage of experience. If there were quality players behind them, they could cause some damage.

Nevertheless, their talent level has a ceiling, and, outside of Johnson, I don't see any players that will consistently menace the quarterback.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: 10


Linebackers: The Hoosiers return two starting linebackers in seniors Leon Beckum and Jeff Thomas. Also, junior Chad Sherer started three games last season, though he was not at the top of the depth chart at any point this spring, including the spring game.

Redshirt freshman Chase Hoobler is currently the third starting linebacker, though the official starting lineup for the spring game featured a nickelback instead of a third backer.

Thomas is the epitome of an extremely hard working player with limited ability. He hits hard, is physical, and is much better than average against the run. The problem is he is not a strong blitzer and is a liability in coverage. Along with Darius Johnson, he will be the leader of the D.

Beckum is better against the pass than Thomas, not quite as good against the run, and he can be gameplanned against.

The two of them form a nice nucleus for the defense.

If the spring game is any indication, IU will be looking to play a nickelback in the base defense for two reasons.

Firstly, because nickelback Greg Heban was the Hoosiers' best defensive player in the spring practice. Secondly, after Beckum and Thomas, there don't seem to be many quality linebackers. This not only translates into an issue with a third linebacker, but also a depth problem.

Much as with the D-line, the linebacking corps should be solid if unspectacular, provided the top two stay healthy.

If the weakest links in the front seven can improve and/or be minimized, this should be a good group against the run. On the other hand, the ceiling against the pass looks low.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Nine


Secondary: This is an area of great concern for Indiana. Statistically, they had the worst pass defense in the conference last season.

They also graduated arguably their best defensive back in safety Mitch Evans. On top of that, they lost two more contributors in cornerbacks Matt Ernest and Richard Council.

They do have two players with starting experience—CB/S Greg Heban and S Donnell Jones. As previously mentioned, Heban started the spring game at nickelback, which the IU coaches seem to be using as a hybrid position. On the other hand, Jones, who started the spring at the top of the depth chart, was not at the top of the chart at the end of spring.

If Jones does regain the starting spot, he has been solid in run support, but his coverage skills have been mediocre at best.

Along with Heban, the current starters are: senior Lenyatta Kiles and sophomore Lawrence Barnett at CB; seniors Jarrell Drane and Chris Adkins at safety.

Part of the reason last year's pass defense was so bad had to do with a weak pass rush, though the secondary had its own problems.

This year's spring game also saw the secondary let far too many receivers get behind them. It is true that they were going up against the very talented Hoosier receiving corps, but there is no reason that Indiana's inexperienced quarterbacks should have finished the game with a combined efficiency rating of 138.52.

This is especially true when you consider the dynamic of a spring practice. These two squads have been going against each other for almost a month. By now, the defense has seen most, if not all of the offense's plays. In effect, the advantage should go to the defense.

As previously mentioned, Heban looks to have made strides this offseason. Also, as the front seven will be a notable improvement over last year, the job of the back four should be easier.

Still, I don't expect much from this bunch.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: 12


Special Teams Specialists: The Hoosiers return both kicking specialists, though they lose their primary return man in Tandon Doss.

Starting with the kicker, Mitch Ewald had the second highest field goal completion percentage in the Big Ten in 2010. He made 16 of 19 kicks, which is impressive for any kicker, let alone a redshirt freshman. His long was 49 yards.

He also made all his extra points.

The punter will be senior Chris Hagerup. Hagerup's net has dropped every year since his freshman campaign, though I wouldn't read too much into that. He has also gotten steadier with his ball placement, and in 2010, he landed more punts inside the 20 than any previous season.

He is not going to change the momentum or field position of too many games, but he is also not going to shank many balls.

Meanwhile, sophomore receiver Duwyce Wilson is currently listed as the starting kick and punt returner. He has some collegiate experience returning kicks, having returned eight last season for 22.50 yards per return.

Another option will be sophomore running back Nick Turner, who returned 12 kicks in 2010 for 21.08 yards.

It remains to be seen if the return man will be a game changer, but it is unlikely he will be a liability.

IU has no players on their roster with collegiate punt returning experience.

With a good kicker, a dependable punter and solid-at-worst and explosive-at-best return men, the specialists will be an asset for the Hoosiers.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Five


Big Ten Breakdown: Indiana Hoosiers, Part 1 (Overview and Offense)


Coming tomorrow: Impact freshmen, the schedule and the final breakdown.


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