The CastPete Bachman
The LeaderDarius Johnson – 6-foot, 241 pound redshirt senior
2010 Production: 11 games played; 65 tackles; 32 solo tackles; 7 tackles for loss; 4.5 sacks; 1 forced fumble
Strengths: relentless motor; good tackler; physical player
Weaknesses: foot speed
The skinny: Johnson has showed a true workmanlike approach to his IU career rising from a scout team standout linebacker as a redshirt in 2007 to the team's top defensive end in 2011. He made the switch from linebacker to defensive end as a sophomore in 2009 only to have that season derailed by a season-ending shoulder injury. He came back with a vengeance in 2011, starting all 11 games, leading the team in sacks, and earning the Big Play Maker Award on defense.
Outlook: Johnson made a big jump in 2011 thanks to a healthy season and his overall improved comfort level at defensive end. This year the Hoosiers need him to make another big leap, specifically in creating more big plays on defense. He forced just one fumble a year ago and recovered none. The Hoosiers will be banking on him getting into the backfield this season and creating havoc once he gets there.
The ContenderKevin Bush – 6-foot-3, 253 pound redshirt junior
2010 Production: 12 games played;11 tackles; 5 solo tackles; 0.5 tackle for a loss; 1 blocked kick
Strengths: hard-worker; solid tackler; leadership
Weaknesses: lack of burst; foot speed
The skinny: Bush, who came to Indiana after serving three years in the Armed Forces, isn't the most physically gifted defender, but succeeds due to his heady play and sheer will. His lack of explosion off the line hinders his ability to get to the quarterback before he releases the ball and explains his lack of sacks. What he does provide is sound execution of his assignments and a competitive edge to the defensive unit.
Outlook: Bush looks to be in for an interesting junior campaign. He heads into the season as one of the defensive leaders due to his experience, but could struggle to hold off more physically gifted competitors for playing time. If he is going to stay on the field he will have to show he can get in the backfield more often and collect tackles for a loss.
The DarkhorseRyan Phillis – 6-foot-3, 229 pound redshirt freshman
2010 Production: N/A
Strengths: competitor; assignment-sound
Weaknesses: foot speed; lack of experience
The skinny: Phillis has had a tough start to his Hoosier career. He suffered a season-ending foot injury before the 2011 campaign even began making him a de facto redshirt last season. That injury set him back as he wasn't able to get reps with the scout team, but instead had to rely on improvement by observation. He apparently made the most of it, however, as he quickly scaled the depth chart this spring and earned the respect of new coach Kevin Wilson.
Outlook: It would be easy to pick a player for this category with more natural gifts, like 6-foot-5, 242 pound redshirt sophomore Javon Cornley, to be the darkhorse player this fall. But despite his lesser stature, Phillis' performance this spring made him impossible to ignore. He wasn't flashy and he didn't set the world on fire exactly, but he was never out of position and always made the routine play, quickly making him a coach's favorite. He's proven himself a dependable option on the defensive line and competes with a chip on his shoulder, making him someone to watch this fall.