The Indiana defensive line will have a new look this season with new players in key roles and a new coach leading them in Mark Hagen. Peegs.com has a Question and Answer story with the former IU standout about how his guys are doing so far in Fall Camp.
Q - Talk about how Fall Camp is going for your guys and how pleased you are with their progress.
Coach Hagen: I think it’s going good. I think the guys are playing with confidence. It certainly hasn’t been perfect, but I think they are playing off of what Tom (Allen) kind of planted seed-wise in the spring. They are playing off of each other and playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. We’re certainly seeing more good than bad. We’ve still got plenty of room to grow and clean things up, but our guys are grinding and have been getting better. I know our guys are going up against an excellent offensive line every day and that is going to prepare us for the grind of the season.
Q - After spring ball and after a number of practices in Fall Camp are you starting to see more defined roles for different guys and where they might fit best in the defense?
Coach Hagen: I think so. I think the guy we’re still moving around a little bit is Jacob Robinson. He is a big-bodied guy that certainly can give us an anchor on the edge to the field, but he can also bump inside and give us a little more athleticism at the 3-technique. And I think the rest of the guys are doing a good job of kind of settling in to their own positions. It has been good competition and that always helps when you’ve got guys pushing each other. I see a lot of good out of everybody so we’ve just got to keep grinding and moving forward.
Q - In the spring you talked about trying to find some guys who could provide a consistent pass rush off the edge. Have you been able to find some guys who can do that, or will it be more of a case of you guys as coaches will have to scheme ways to get pressure?
Coach Hagen: I think for us to be successful as far as getting pressure it will have to be a little bit of everything. I think Tom in his package has some really good pressures, and we certainly have the ability to mix it up front, but we’re also looking for more consistency from a one-on-one pass. But I think guys are gaining on it, and I think they’re feeing off each other. But it won’t be any one thing, it will be a combination of different things.
Q - When it comes to those defensive ends what have you seen so far from guys like Greg Gooch and Nile Sykes?
Coach Hagen: I think it is going well. With both guys I wouldn’t say it has been totally smooth sailing, but you could say that about everybody. There are different guys that have really good days, and some guys that maybe struggle a little bit more. That is where collectively as a group we’re feeding off each other. Guys are picking one another up and I think they are embracing those situations. But Greg and Nile are competing for that Bull position, that weak-side defensive end spot. I expect both guys to play quite a bit for us. I think those two feed off of each other and there has been good competition there.
Q - Do you feel good about the leadership you are getting from some of the veterans like Ralph Green and Nate Hoff?
Coach Hagen: I think Ralph (Green) and Nate (Hoff) are stepping into those roles and they’re certainly accepting the challenge. You are starting to see Jacob Robinson kind of step into that role as well. So we’ve got those three guys that are kind of the leaders of the group, but you will see other people at times get outside themselves and speak up to the young guys like Allen Stallings and Jerome Johnson to help them out. It has certainly been a group effort but I have seen those older guys certainly step to the forefront.
Q - There are a couple of newcomers to the D-line in Jerome Johnson and Allen Stallings, and even Ja'Merez Bowen is somewhat new to the position. How is Fall Camp going for those guys?
Coach Hagen: They’re doing a god job. With Ja’Merez I think he made a lot of strides in the spring, but this is his first camp and in the spring you rarely practice on back-to-back days. There is almost always a day off so the grind is not nearly what it is in Fall Camp, so I think he is working through that and some of the mental parts of camp. So he is having a good camp and is getting better. Jerome Johnson and Allen Stallings are a little bit different because Jerome was here throughout the summer so he knew some of the system and I think that has helped him. Allen has been trying to play catch-up from day one. He is a guy that certainly gives us some speed and athleticism, and I love the fact that he was a state champion wrestler because I think that gives him a skill-set that can certainly help us. It’s just getting him up to speed from a mental standpoint. Young guys are doing well, but they’ve just got to keep grinding away and keep pounding the rock.
Q - The intensity that the defense has had in Fall Camp and even going back to the spring is noticeable. Do the coaches see that as well?
Coach Hagen: Without a doubt...without a doubt. That starts with Tom (Allen) and his personality and his beliefs and I think our kids feed off of that. I think you are seeing buy-in at all levels, whether it be a young player, an older player, assistant coaches. That is really the essence of defense. It’s juice, it’s energy, it’s enthusiasm. If you can have that collectively as a group that just rubs off on everybody and it kind of feeds itself. You rarely see a great defense that doesn’t look excited to be out there and excited to play, and that is what our guys have given us in camp. It’s easy to be that way the first few days because everybody is excited to start camp, but then you put the full pads on and you get into your double sessions and that’s where you build the toughness and the mindset.
Q - Does the way that Coach Allen comes to work every day rub off on you as a coach as much as it rubs off on the players?
Coach Hagen: Without a doubt. There are never any down days for Tom. And the things you say about our defense you can say about our staff because there is that constant vibe and energy and we feed off of each other. You better have juice as a coach because your players feed off of that. It all works together and if the coaches out there and they don’t have the juice and the get after it the players are going to feed off of you and they maybe won’t be pushing it as hard as they can.