Spring practice is almost over for the Indiana football team as they will hold their last workout of the spring tonight with the Cream & Crimson Game. The contest will get started at 7:00 p.m. inside Memorial Stadium. Peegs.com looks at three things on the defensive side of the ball to keep an eye on when the Hoosiers hit the field later this evening.
Young Defensive Tackles
The Indiana defense returns the majority of their defensive linemen from 2016, but one player they did lose will be a tough one to replace in Ralph Green. Green had an up and down career for the Hoosiers, but last fall he was much more consistent and he put together a solid season. It was good enough to get him an invite to the East-West Shrine Game, where he performed very well. A couple of the D-linemen that will be counted on to step up with Green gone are redshirt freshman Jerome Johnson and true freshman Juan Harris. Johnson impressed the coaches last fall as a redshirt in his first season with the Hoosiers. With Nate Hoff entrenched as the starting nose guard, Johnson has a good shot to be the starting defensive tackle next to Hoff. Harris is a massive guy that has a chance to be a difference-maker on the interior of the D-line for the Hoosiers, but he needs to get in better shape. He has lost a good deal of weight since arriving at IU, but he still has more weight to drop to be as effective as he can be. It will be interesting to see how much he is able to play tonight, and how much of a factor he can be.
Spring games are always very vanilla, which means on defense there most likely will not be any blitzing going on. What that does mean is we will get a chance to see how much improvement the IU defensive lineman, and more specifically, the IU defensive ends, have made since last fall. This is probably the area that the Hoosiers need to get the biggest improvement from if they want to be a top 25 defense in the nation. Last year the Indiana defense struggled to get a consistent pass rush without sending an extra guy or two on a blitz. It will be interesting to see if guys like Greg Gooch, Nile Sykes, Allen Stallings and Robert McCray can get some heat on the opposing QB tonight by beating their guy one-on-one. It would also be huge if an interior defensive lineman like Jacob Robinson could give the defense a pass rusher up the middle. The defensive scheme that IU will employ tonight will almost certainly be very basic, but what that means is we should get an idea tonight as to which guys might be pass rushing specialists for IU this fall.
The coaching staff knows what they have at one linebacker spot with Tegray Scales, but they need to find a replacement for Marcus Oliver. Oliver played a lot of football for IU in his time with the Hoosiers, and last fall he was a huge part of the tremendous improvement the defense made overall. He was basically the coach on the field for the Indiana defense, and he was also a guy that had a knack for making big plays. The top candidates to replace are probably Chris Covington and Dameon Willis. Covington is a big linebacker with good athleticism. Willis doesn’t have the athletic ability that Covington possesses, but he is a heady player that always seems to be in the right spot. Another name that could be in the mix to replace Oliver is junior college transfer Mike McGinnis. McGinnis arrived at IU earlier this semester and was able to go through spring ball with the team. He is behind the other players because he doesn’t know the defense as well as they do, but he has the ability to make a significant contribution for the IU defense immediately. Another name to throw in the mix is former starter T.J. Simmons. The Florida native was a key player for the Hoosiers a few years ago, but when Tom Allen came in and they switched the scheme it left Simmons on the outside looking in as he did not a single snap of action last fall. There was some question as to whether or not he would come back for a fifth year, but he did and he has a chance to get in the mix at the Mike LB spot. Whoever replaces Oliver has big shoes to fill, and tonight should give us our first clue as to who that person might be.