Bloomington, Ind. - No position faces more changes this fall than linebacker.
First of all, the starting slate has been wiped clean by graduation. Gone from a season ago are three season-opening starters, middle linebacker John Pannozzo and outside linebackers Kyle Killion and Josh Moore. Replacing Pannozzo (52 tackles, 7 ½ tackles for loss) and Killion (team-high 91 tackles, eight tackles for loss) is the biggest challenge facing the Hoosiers' defensive staff this off-season.
But the changes don't stop with personnel. In an effort to get more speed on the field – and to better utilize the team's talent at safety – Indiana has dropped a third safety down to an outside linebacker spot. That spot was manned primarily by 5-11, 190-pound junior Aaron Mitchell with the No. 1 unit and 6-3, 198-pound redshirt freshman Dan Kinsey on the No. 2s, providing a significant boost the defense's overall speed.
Mitchell has always been one of the defense's biggest hitters and seems like a natural fit at the position. Kinsey, meanwhile, is an ultra-athletic player who the staff had originally hoped would bulk up to the 225-pound range by the time this season rolled around. While they'd still like to see him add some additional weight to his frame, his sideline-to-sideline speed makes him a likely contributor this fall.
According to IU Coach Terry Hoeppner, getting that additional speed on the field was imperative.
"Coming from Miami, I said the Big Ten is the deep water with the big fish," Hoeppner said. "But in reality it's the deep, deep water, with the big, big fish that swim fast, fast, fast. We need to be able to swim faster in the deep water. I think we've taken a quantum leap in that direction."
Truth be told, the Hoosiers other likely contributors at linebacker are also built for speed. First-team outside linebacker Geno Johnson has added some size from his true freshman season, but still has just 204 pounds on his 6-2 frame. Second-string outside linebacker Josh Bailey, a redshirt freshman, is 6-1 and 208 pounds and is a converted cornerback.
On the inside, senior Adam McClurg (6-0, 230) has good size and spent the spring with the No. 1s. Senior Jake Powers (6-1, 230), meanwhile, has moved from his outside linebacker spot to the inside, and was one of the spring's biggest playmakers while working with the No. 2 unit. As evidenced by Pannozzo's big plays a year ago, it's a position that the IU defensive staff loves to blitz and attack with, and that could be a better fit for Powers heading into his senior season.
Another player who IU fans didn't see in the spring – but will undoubtedly have an eye on this fall – is junior college middle linebacker Vernon Smith, a 5-11, 235-pounder from Butler Community College. A Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native and a graduate of Dillard H.S., will have two years of eligibility remaining and is viewed as someone who will step in and be a factor from day one.
Also, don't be surprised if the IU staff also takes a very long look at the other two linebacker prospects from its 2006 recruiting class – 6-0, 220-pound Mandela Roberts and 6-0, 205-pound Matt Mayberry. Both have the sort of speed that the staff wants on the field, and if the returnees aren't producing Hoeppner and Co. won't be slow to give those two newcomers a chance.
Biggest Surprise – Originally the use of three safeties appeared to be a move out of necessity because of a lack of depth at linebacker, but it looks like it's an approach the staff intends to stick with this fall. The move has unquestionably made the defense faster. The question will be whether they're physically able to stand-up to some of the league's smash-mouth teams, and that's where developing some improved depth this fall will be imperative.
Biggest Disappointment – This is more of a case of hindsight, but it's disappointing Matt Lewis didn't stick around long enough to get his chance to anchor the IU defense. The star recruit of IU's 2005 class, Lewis arrived in town last fall terribly out of shape and eventually hurt his knee. He never worked himself into condition to get any sort of look at linebacker last fall and eventually opted to transfer at semester. Truth of the matter is he would have had a golden opportunity to be a starter this fall had he stuck around and gotten himself into shape, but that never happened.
With his departure, there was also a real opportunity for an unproven linebacker to emerge as a contender for playing time this fall, but that didn't materialize. Isaac Price is a physical specimen at 6-1 and 235 pounds, but he's yet to crack the Hoosiers' two-deep. He'll find playing time even harder to come by this fall once Mayberry, Roberts and Smith are added to the mix.
Spring Position MVP – Powers gets the nod simply for making plays. A lot of that has to do with the Hoosiers' scheme which has the middle linebacker bringing additional pressure on the quarterback, a role Powers excelled at this spring. Time will tell if he has the size to handle the wear and tear of life at middle linebacker in the Big Ten, but during 11-on-11 work it was hard to argue with his productivity. He was flying around to the ball, making plays, and serving as an inspirational leader on the defensive side of the ball.
Post-Spring Analysis - Linebackers
Peegs.com Top Stories
Inside the Locker Room: Hoosier HysteriaThe Hoosier Hysteria version of the Inside the Locker Room is often one of the most talked about of the year. Don't miss the latest scoop.
Hoosiers looking to get offense back on trackThe Hoosiers have been hard at work trying to fix the little mistakes that have plagued the offense the last few weeks.
Hoosier Newsstand, Oct. 21Get the latest articles on Indiana basketball, football and other sports in today's edition of the Hoosier Newsstand.
A look at the WildcatsZach Pereles from Inside NU talks to Peegs.com about the Northwestern Wildcats and tomorrow's match-up with the Hoosiers.
Northwestern week: Coach William Inge Q&AIndiana assistant coach William Inge talks to Peegs.com about how he thinks the defense has performed through the first half of the 2016 season, and what they need to do this week…
Peegs.comYesterday at 12:33 PM