It had been four years since John Pannozzo last played a football game at linebacker, but you'd have never known that Friday night.
In his first game at middle linebacker since his days at Brooklyn's Poly Prep High School, Pannozza made six tackles, three tackles for-a-loss, and one sack and forced a fumble against Central Michigan to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for the opening weekend of Big Ten play.
"Talk about a stamp of approval on that move to switch him to linebacker," said Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner. "If there were any doubts in anyone's mind, his grandparents or anyone, they are gone. He can play middle linebacker."
Pannozzo was the Hoosiers' starting fullback each of his first three seasons at Indiana, but Hoeppner's spread offense rarely uses a fullback in its offense. In an effort to get Pannozzo on the field, Hoeppner and his staff moved the 5-11, 235-pound senior captain to middle linebacker in the spring. This allowed 2004 all-league pick Kyle Killion to move to his more natural outside linebacker slot.
"We, the coaches and the team, knew it was a good decision all the way back in spring ball and it was a good move," said Pannozzo. "For me to play well this early in the season is a good sign for the team because it means I don't need a couple of games to get warmed up and I can help the team out right away. That way everyone can concentrate on their job and not have to worry about me.
"The (Big Ten weekly honor) is little more than a confidence booster for me. It other people are seeing the switch now and agreeing with it, it brings positive attention to the program that's a plus for this team."
Pannozzo got to see his first action at linebacker in Indiana's 20-13 win over Central Michigan on Friday, Sept. 2. When he had spent the entire spring, summer and fall camps learning the position, nothing compared to the real thing.
"The first quarter was a little shaky for me," said Pannozzo. "It was a little weird being out there and it was a lot more fast-paced than when the scout team is showing us their offense. They gave us some stuff we didn't see in practice. The first quarter was a little confusing, but I got comfortable and settled in. From there on it was pretty smooth."
Once Pannozzo got on track, so did the rest of the Indiana defense. After allowing Central Michigan to control the ball for 10:43 in the first quarter, the Chippewas held it for only 15 minutes in the final three quarters, including just 8:40 in the second half.
"I think we have a talented group on defense," said Pannozzo. "We have a lot of seniors out there and a lot of guys who care about winning. Our whole defense understands how important each drive is in a game. We have to play every down if we want to win. I was impressed with this group because everyone made plays. Nobody took time off. I think everyone on this unit is a leader and understands how to play football."
With Central Michigan in the rear view mirror, Pannozzo and the rest of the defense must prepare for the first home game of the season against Nichols State and let the lessons of last week keep the defense – and himself – improving.
"We take all the positives from last week and we work on the negatives," said Pannozzo. "They showed us a lot of stuff we reacted well to and then there were times when we didn't know how to react. We have to take everything, clean up the mistakes and learn from the experience."
A Man In the Middle
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