Positional Series: Defensive Line

A Hoosier defensive line that finished last in the Big Ten in rush defense last year and loses its two strongest players to the NFL can be easy to doubt. But the coaching and talent is there to improve from last year.

The Hoosier defensive line is young, very young. And it is going to take a great deal of coaching for the line to slow down the run

Expected to start

Ralphael Green/DT/RS FR/6-5/307

Alex Todd/DT/SO/6-3/301

Zack Shaw/RE/RS SO/6-3/255

Ryan Phillis/LE/RS JR/6-3/260

Green, who redshirted the 2012 season, was the first pick for the spring game. During his redshirt season Green grew in understanding the game of college football and in physical strength. Green, who came to Indiana for the opportunity to play, will get his chance in 2013.

Now weighing over 300 pounds, up from 285 in high school, Todd is ready to start at defensive tackle for the Hoosiers. Last year he played in eight games making three tackles.

Only a sophomore but considered a leader on the defensive line, Shaw will look to improve upon his BTN.com All-Big Ten Freshman team year. In 2012 he started nine games and played in all 12 totaling up 29 tackles, 18 which were solo, five for a loss.

Phillis, the leader of the defensive line, has started 16 games in a row for the Hoosiers. He put together a 34-tackle season in 2012 with three sacks. He is also a bright guy making the Academic All-Big Ten team last season.

In the two deep

Jordan Heiderman/ DT/RS JR/6-3/287

Adarius Rayner/DT/RS SO/6-2/305

John Laihinen/RE/RS JR/6-4/255

Nick Mangieri RE/SO/6-5/260

Bobby Richardson/LE/JR/6-3/281

IU has depth upfront. All but Heiderman, who is a junior college transfer, had a solid amount of playing experience in 2012.Richardson played in all 12 games last year finishing the season with 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Laihinen started three times and played in 10 games ending the season with 18 tackles. Mangieri played in 10 games putting together 12 tackles and Rayner was on the field in seven games making four tackles and a sack.

Others in the mix

Mike Replogle/DE/JR/6-2/245

Darius Latham/DL/FR/6-5/296

David Kenney/DL/FR/6-2/272

Christopher Cormier/DL/JR/6-2/310

LeNeil Himes/DT/RS JR/6-1/293

Shawn Heffern/DE /RS FR/6-6/256

There are certainly some names that stick in this group of players. Replogle appeared in 10 games last year. Obviously it is easy to notice the two talented incoming recruits, Latham and Kenney but they are still adjusting to playing against players at the college level.

Help on the way

Four of Indiana's 10 committed players in the Class of 2014 are defensive linemen. They include:

DE: Nick Carovillano (St. Xavier HS) Cincinnati, Ohio 6-4/230

DT: Jermane Conyers (Ridgeland HS) Rossville, Ga. 6-3/290

DT: Willie Yarbary(Academy Of Richmond County HS) Augusta, Ga. 6-2/270

DT: Michael Barwick(Summit Country Day School) Cincinnati, Ohio 6-1/275

Position Coaches

Jon Fabris

Fabris, the defensive line coach, is in his second year at IU.

You are not going to find a more qualified coach on the IU roster than Fabris. He has coached at Georgia Tech, Washington State, Iowa State, Notre Dame, Kansas State, South Carolina, Georgia, the Cleveland Browns and Northwest Mississippi Community College. Just looking at his success during his nine year run at the University of Georgia where he coached defensive ends is jaw dropping. Some stats from UGA: seven of the top 12 players in career sacks were ones he coached, three defensive ends led the SEC in sacks (2002, 2004 and 2007), coached David Pollack (a three time all American, two time SEC player of the year, and a winner of many other awards), and he was also selected as the best position coach in the SEC by Sporting News in 2009.

Positional Strengths

A few things stand out. As a unit, the group appears to be very coachable which will only be a positive moving forward. A play like Phillis is an excellent leader. If he has an ego, he leaves it at home and brings a great attitude to practice. The line has depth with 10 players having playing experience in 2012. IU finished tied for 3rd in the Big 10 in sacks last year with a total of 19. Conditioning also isn't an issue. The players have continued to get in better shape. Expect them to be a bit tougher this year on the field.

What Needs to Improve

There are also some concerns. The Hoosiers need to get a consistent pass rush and pressure on the quarterback. They need to do a better job stopping the run. IU needs to do a better job defensively, especially on first and second downs. Too many times last year IU's opponents had 3rd and short situations. It always ultimately comes down to execution, filling the gaps and making the plays. One statistic IU needs to improve on in particular is reducing yards after contact. Bringing down yards after contact. While the Hoosiers did improve on group tackling, yards after contact was still an issue.

Kevin Wilson's take on the unit

"We're very talented there, a little bit inexperienced and maybe that is an Achilles heel. But not slighting the guys that left because two of those guys went to pro camps but the guys that came in and the guys that are there there's more talent there. It's inexperience. We'll see if it plays."

Players weigh in too

Here's Phillis on the DL's ability to attack in the upcoming season:

"Yes I am very confident we're working on gap integrity, staying in our gaps. All camp that's a big thing we've worked on. We can't allow vertical seems. The easiest way to the end zone is north and south so staying in that gap, letting our linebackers scrap, letting our linebackers fill whatever we need to do. Just attacking our landmark and keeping our eye on where we're supposed to be. We need gap integrity, and we'll be fine."

Overall analysis

More talent equals better play. The Hoosier defensive line has the ability to stop the rush and far more depth than last year. Now the question is how much will the inexperience hold it back? It may not be a pretty first couple of games statistically but with each game there will be improvement. The key will be how quickly the defensive line can learn how to hit its assignments and use the correct technique. Fortunately, Coach Fabris is great at bringing that out of his players.

Follow Nolan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/nolan_blair

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