Defensive Line – The Hoosier staff knew there were wholesale changes to make with the front four this season after the loss of Victor Adeyanju, Ben Ishola and Russ Richardson from a year ago. The unit then suffered another hit a week ago when Charlie Emerson, a starter in six games a season ago, was moved to offensive tackle to try to shore up that position.
Despite those departures, IU is expected to be much deeper on the defensive front this season. JUCO transfer Keith Burrus has impressed this fall and has moved up to the No. 1 unit at left defensive end, where he joins defensive tackle Greg Brown, nose tackle Joe Kremer and right defensive end Kenny Kendal. Burrus gives IU good athleticism off the edge, while the 6-2, 303-pound Brown and the 6-2, 295-pound Kremer give IU more size than they've had on the interior of the defensive line in several years. The 6-3, 250-pound Kendal, meanwhile, is a good athlete with starting experience in his background. He can drop back into zone coverage on occasion – something Adeyanju did at times a year ago – or provide some pressure of his own.
That's a solid group of returnees, but the upside from this unit could come from the second unit of defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Brian Faires along with nose tackle Todd Newman and defensive tackle Emile Bass. Kirlew is a tremendous athlete who has the speed to create problems for offensive tackles. Bass and Newman, meanwhile, give defensive line coach Brian George a couple of 290-pound defensive tackles with very good athleticism as well.
Added size on the defensive interior should make this group more stout against the run, but the question mark is what sort of quarterback pressure they can produce. If IU has to rely on blitzing to pressure the quarterback, it will once again make itself susceptible to the big play in the passing game.
Starters: Keith Burrus, Greg Brown, Joe Kremer, Kenny Kendal
Keep an Eye On: Burrus. The IU staff wasn't going to move Emerson – no matter how desperate the needs on the offensive line - if it didn't feel good about who they had waiting at defensive end. This former Ben Davis H.S. standout has surprised just about everyone this fall with his ascent up the depth chart.
Linebacker – It's slim pickings for IU linebackers coach George Ricumstrict, who only has eight linebackers to work with during position drills at fall camp. Of course, a big reason for that is IU's decision to add the "Buck" position to its defense, basically adding a third safety who lines up at an outside linebacker position.
Like the defensive front four, there are some gaping holes to fill. Indiana lost middle linebacker John Pannozzo, Kyle Killion and Josh Moore from a season ago, a group that combined for 158 tackles last season. No player will be more difficult to replace than Killion, who led the team with 91 tackles and played both outside linebacker and middle linebacker a year ago.
Indications are Ricumstrict will go to battle with junior Adam McClurg at middle linebacker and sophomore Geno Johnson on the outside on the No. 1 unit. They're backed up by senior Jake Powers at middle linebacker and either Will Patterson or Mandela Roberts on the outside.
McClurg is fully recovered from an 2004 ACL injury that limited him a year ago. He claimed the starting job in the spring and continues to earn rave reviews from the coaching staff. Johnson, meanwhile, has added 15 pounds to his frame from a year ago and gives the Hoosiers sideline-to-sideline speed. Powers provides additional experience on the No. 2 unit, someone who can deliver a big blow to an unsuspecting ball carrier.
The most intriguing contributors will be Patterson and Roberts, a pair of true freshmen who have shared the No. 2 spot for the past week.
Starters: Adam McClurg, Geno Johnson
Keep an Eye On: Will Patterson. He's bigger than I thought and he has a nose for the ball. He has the speed to drop back in pass coverage, but can deliver a big hit as well. He's less than three weeks into his IU career, but he looks like he has a chance to be a special player.
Secondary – There's an abundance of quality safeties on the IU roster, and the staff is doing what it can to get them on the field. Will Meyers, who ranked second on the team with 84 tackles a year ago, has moved to the "Buck" position, where he'll line up closer to the line of scrimmage and be more of a factor in the running game. His move has freed up Austin Thomas to move into the starting lineup at one safety spot, while Troy Grosfield and Eric McClurg are battling for the other No. 1 spot. One of the things the staff really likes about Thomas is he's a very good open field tackler – much like Grosfield – and he has a 210-pound frame to deliver big hits to those who cross his path.
Backing up Meyers at the "Buck" is converted cornerback Josh Bailey, while Brandon Mosley has been on the second unit at a safety spot. Bailey's cover skills, coupled with the additional 15 pounds he put on during the off-season, make him a good fit for the spot. He'll be a contributor, which could lead to a redshirt season for the team's No. 3 "Buck," Matt Mayberry.
At cornerback, Tracy Porter, Leslie Majors and Chris Phillips will be contributors. Porter said he was disappointed in his season a year ago (48 tackles, three interceptions, 6 passes broken up) and is looking to emerge as a bona fide lock down corner. Majors was up and down a year ago but should be more solid with a year of experience under his belt. Phillips, meanwhile, has risen rapidly in the eyes of the coaching staff this fall and has become a reliable third option.
Starters: Porter, Majors, McClurg, Thomas, Meyers
Keep an Eye On: Thomas. He's only a redshirt freshman, but he looks like he could be a mainstay in the IU secondary for the foreseeable future. He has the size (6-2, 210) IU hasn't had at the position recently, and he'll deliver enough big blow that opposing receivers will have to be wary when they enter his area of the field. He's a player who has big-play potential for the IU defense.
Two-Deep Breakdown - Defense
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