Bloomington, Ind. – When it comes to the Hoosier linebackers this fall, bigger is in fact better.
As Indiana gets the second week of camp underway, IU linebackers Coach George Ricumstrict has the luxury of not only working with three returning starters from a year ago, but also having three starters who have added significant weight from where they've been in the past.
Outside linebackers Geno Johnson (230 pounds) and Will Patterson (233 pounds) along with middle linebacker Adam McClurg (225 pounds) are not only playing the part of linebackers, but looking the part as well.
"We're a bigger, stronger group," Ricumstrict.
The biggest change has been with Johnson, who played at 200 pounds as a true freshman and then 210 pounds a year ago. He had a more-than-respectable 52 tackles a year ago, but should be better able to match up against the run this year than he's been in the past.
"Geno looks good and is moving well with the weight," Ricumstrict said.
Patterson, meanwhile, is another linebacker who played as a true freshman, totaling 41 tackles and 4 ½ tackles for loss a year ago. He's added another 10 pounds in the off-season and is one of the team's most physical defenders from his strongside linebacker position.
"Will Patt is Will Patt," Ricumstrict said. "He was strong day one and he's getting stronger, and he's a explosive."
McClurg, meanwhile, lost some weight in the off-season and was down to 215 in the spring. Ricumstrict said that was by design, in an effort to lessen the wear and tear on the Hoosier middle linebacker who has had a series of injuries and surgeries during his career. He's now back up to 225, is healthy, and is being counted on to be a big part of the Hoosiers' plans on defense as well.
"He feels strong, and he says he feels good and he's playing fast," Ricumstrict said. "I think he's stronger this year, so we think he'll stay healthy. We feel good about it."
Ricumstrict also said he feels good about what the team has on the second unit. After starting out at safety and then moving to outside linebacker last fall, Matt Mayberry moved inside last spring and is expected to back up McClurg and will also be a big part of the Hoosiers' blitz package. Like the No. 1 unit, Mayberry is also significantly bigger than he was a year ago.
"A year ago I came in at 205 and I'm up to 228 right now," Mayberry said. "I feel comfortable at that weight and I feel I can keep my speed up there."
Ricumstrict said Mayberry is the fastest linebacker in the group, just ahead of McClurg. Both are players that Ricumstrict says run in the 4.5 range in the 40, showing this year's defense figures to place a heavy emphasis on speed as well as size.
"Matt's a confident kid, and he's a leader, a natural MIKE," Ricumstrict said. "He can cover some ground."
Mayberry is flanked by true freshman Tyler Replogle (230 pounds) and sophomore Justin Carrington (212 pounds) to give Ricumstrict a much bigger and ultimately better stable of linebackers than he's had to work with in his first two years in Bloomington.
"We're encouraged by what we've seen from the guys this fall, and excited about what they can do when the season gets going," Ricumstrict said.
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