Terry Hoeppner's most recent recruiting class received plenty hype for addressing some pressing needs on the Hoosiers' offensive line with the "Seven Blocks of Limestone." But it was Hoeppner's first class that will likely have a similar long-term impact on the Hoosiers' defensive front.
In 2005, Hoeppner inked four freshman defensive linemen who all redshirted a season ago – defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Neal Jones along with defensive tackles Emile Bass and Todd Newman. After a season on the sidelines, this quartet has emerged as the team's No. 2 defensive line, with a couple of them expected to make pushes for starting spots by the time the Sept. 2 season opener arrives.
Thanks to strong efforts this spring and some promising signs a season ago, the two who have been pressing the issue the most are the 6-4, 238-pound Kirlew and the 6-3, 288-pound Bass. Both were considered potential contributors as true freshmen a season ago before the staff instead opted to redshirt them and preserve the extra year of eligibility. This season, though, both are undoubtedly going to be a part of defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator Brian George's defensive line rotation.
Kirlew is a big-play defensive end, someone whose athleticism allows him to not only get after the quarterback from his right defensive end position, but also drop back into coverage on occasion when necessary. He can chase down ball carriers from sideline to sideline and looks like he has a chance to be a special player. Bass, meanwhile, has plenty of size at the defensive tackle spot and couples that with good athleticism as well, making him a load for offensive linemen to deal with.
While this quartet of redshirt freshmen are likely contributors this fall, they'll be joined by four veterans – including three with starting experience – to give Indiana the sort of depth up front that it's lacked in recent years.
At the ends, senior-to-be Kenny Kendal and converted defensive tackle Charlie Emerson return, as do defensive tackles Greg Brown and Joe Kremer. A starter as a freshman and sophomore, Kendal has 23 starts, 23 ½ tackles for loss and nine career sacks to his credit. Kremer, meanwhile, is a 6-2, 286-pound junior who played in 11 games a year ago while serving as a backup at defensive tackle.
The two veterans who stood out the most this spring, though, were Emerson and Brown. The 6-3, 303-pound Brown has the sort of size the IU staff wants at the tackle position, enabling him to stuff the run inside. He's also a good athlete, though, and has the quickness to slip into the backfield to get after the quarterback.
The 6-5, 266-pound Emerson, meanwhile, played defensive tackle a season ago but moved to defensive end this spring. During the Hoosiers' scrimmages and 11-on-11 work he had the most success of any first-string defensive linemen in putting pressure on the quarterback. He capped off a very solid spring with a four-tackle, one-sack effort in the Cream and Crimson game a week ago, including a 23-yard fumble return for a touchdown for the Crimson squad.
Biggest Surprise – With Neal Jones being limited in the final few practices of the spring season, converted tight end Brian Faires had an opportunity to work with the No. 2 unit at defensive end in the final week of spring practice and showed plenty of promise. He finished off his spring with a couple of sacks in the Cream and Crimson game last weekend. The Ben Davis H.S. grad came to IU as a tight end, moved to defensive end as a true freshman, and then switched back to tight end a season ago. But he's moved back to the defensive side of the ball, and he looks likes someone who can add some depth to the defensive end position.
Biggest Disappointment – While Greg Brown has been a very solid contributor at defensive tackle and is a sure-fire contributor in the fall, he's yet to establish himself as a the sort of dominant defensive tackle that many think he has the potential to be. He combines excellent athleticism with a 300-pound-plus frame, leading many to believe he can a tremendous run-stuffing, pass-rushing combo defensive tackle. He's certainly shown flashes, but the staff is still looking for more consistency out of the sophomore.
Spring Position MVP – Kirlew continues to look like a player who could be positioned for a big season, but no defensive lineman was any more productive this spring than Charlie Emerson. A little bit undersized at defensive tackle a season ago, Emerson's 266-pound frame is probably a much better fit at defensive end. He had stretches during 11-on-11 work where he was a consistent presence in the Hoosier backfield, and he looks like he'll be a big part of Brian George's plans this fall at the position.
Post-Spring Analysis - Defensive Line
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