1. Will Indiana be able to pressure the quarterback?
The last three years Indiana has had the luxury of a having a bona fide Big Ten pass rush. In each of the past three seasons, IU's defense has registered more sacks than its offense has yielded, including a +9 total (25 sacks for IU's defense, 16 sacks surrendered) a season ago and a +11 (42-31) during its Insight Bowl 2007 campaign.
But much of Indiana's productivity in that area has departed the program. Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton combined for 44 of IU's 98 sacks during the past three seasons, and they share third place on IU's all-time sacks list with 23 apiece. Both must now be replaced. What Indiana appears likely to do is make good use of its plethora of quality defensive tackles, and sprinkle in more 3-4 looks. In obvious passing situations, IU will likely use Adam Replogle, Larry Black and Nick Sliger on the line and then count of the likes of Darius Johnson, Kevin Bush, and others to provide some pressure off the edge. That could make the Hoosiers more susceptible if they're consistently rushing five players, but somehow, someway, they have to generate some quarterback pressure.
2. How good will Mitchell Evans be at safety?
Mitchell Evans has proven to be such a versatile player that he's virtually switched positions annually. A quarterback when he first he arrived on campus, he quickly switched to safety and played as a true freshman. He spent time at both wide receiver and quarterback as a sophomore, before having his most productive season of his career a year ago while catching 33 passes as a wideout and running IU's Wildcat offensive formation.
Now, he's moving back to defense thanks to the departure of starters Nick Polk and Austin Thomas, and he'll be counted on to be an anchor in the secondary. While he has plenty of college experience on his side, it has been two years since he's played in the defensive backfield and he won't have the luxury of being able to play like an untested player. He'll need to be a reliable last line of defense if Indiana is going to avoid surrendering a lot of big plays.
3. Is there a lockdown corner in the Hoosiers' bunch? There are plenty of familiar faces in IU's stable of cornerbacks, but the players who will see the majority of playing time could be markedly different from a season ago. While experienced players such as Donnell Jones, Richard Council and Adrian Burks all return, it's very possible that none will be starting at corner for the season opener. Jones will likely be sliding over to play safety, and some untested players will likely vie for the starter corner spots.
The odds on favorites heading into camp are converted wide receiver Matt Ernest, redshirt freshman Lawrence Barnett, and junior college transfer Andre Kates. Ernest impressed the staff in the spring with his ability to adapt to the new spot, and he has excellent size and speed for the position. Barnett, meanwhile, was one of the more impressive freshmen throughout practice a season ago. Kates, meanwhile, is an excellent athlete with great size and has the type of attitude that cornerbacks need. He'll undoubtedly be a player to keep an eye on throughout fall camp as IU's staff determines if he's as good as they think he might be.
4. Is Tyler Replogle going to be the voice and anchor of the Hoosiers' defense?
Anyone who has been around the IU practice fields for the past three years has consistently raved about the abilities and approach of senior linebacker Tyler Replogle. Even when he was seeing just spot duty as a freshman and sophomore, he always seemed to be around the ball and in the middle of the action. As a junior he took things to a different level when he ranked second on the team and 12th in the Big Ten with 80 tackles.
With last year's leading tackler Matt Mayberry and Will Patterson both gone, Replogle will need to emerge as a team leader on the defensive side of the ball. His personality and hard-working style seems to be a perfect fit for the leadership role, but time will tell if he's ready to assume that responsibility.
5. What changes can Indiana make to be better at getting off the field on third down?
There are plenty of personnel and formation issues that Indiana needs to sort out this fall during camp. From replacing three-quarters of the secondary to two-thirds of the linebacking corps to two highly-productive defensive ends, there are plenty of players and schemes to keep an eye on.
But on top of the personnel, there's also a desperate need to address a statistical issue from a season ago – third down conversions. In 2010, opposing Big Ten teams converted 52.2 percent of their third down attempts against the IU defense, ranking the Hoosiers last in the conference the category. That inability to get off the field on third down also contributed to IU ranking ninth in the league in time of possession, which in turn likely contributed to the Hoosiers' inability to finish games in the second half.
If Indiana is to seriously contend for a bowl berth this season – something that seems very reasonable considering the schedule and the offensive firepower – it needs to improve to being a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team in defending foes on third down.
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