There is no sugar-coating it. Indiana’s defense is and always has been pretty terrible. With a new coach in Kevin Wilson we are hoping to see that change. Coach Wilson is an offensive genius and lacks the defensive mind that Indiana dreadfully needs but that is where Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler come in. Both have a pretty strong pedigree when it comes to defense and hopefully their coaching can turn it around.
The D-Line specifically will be returning many players from last year and will look to be building onto that experience with some growth at their positions. The strong point for the line this year should be the tackles as they are returning the most veterans to the line. Hashing out starters on the defensive line is somewhat of a difficulty. There are four juniors that will likely get the majority of the playing time in a rotation at defensive tackle. So instead of listing two guys and then depth I am just going to put them all in the starter category because of the chance that they’ll all get pretty equal opportunity to see the field.
Mick Mentzer: The Fort Wayne junior is the first up at the defensive tackle position. An athletic and versatile member of the team has seen positions all over the field in his time with the Hoosiers. He has finally settled in at DT and will be the go to guy when big plays are needed. His athleticism and size should keep him in the mix as he led the position in tackles for a loss last season at 4.
Adam Replogle: Replogle will round out the "starters" at DT this year. He has a great ability to use his speed to get up under tackles and find leverage along the line. He is a bit smaller for your prototypical defensive tackle but his quickness gives him an advantage over many offensive linemen. There have even been points in his career where he has had some reps as a fullback in the offensive backfield.
Larry Black Jr.: The potential in Black is great. The hulking junior has the capability of eating up blockers and providing single teams for the DEs and LBs to slip through into the back field. At 6’2" 312 lbs he is a black hole type player. If he can just convert some of the potential into on the field success he has the chance to have a break out year and be in consideration as a professional in two.
Nick Sliger: At 6’3" 290, Sliger is another guy with a lot of potential that is still yet to have been converted to success. He was one of Indiana’s top high schoolers in 2008 and has battled to succeed in the ever competitive Big Ten. If he can use his reps on the field to show what he’s capable of he could also be a potential pro candidate in a year. His deceptive athleticism also makes him a pass defense threat if you ask Tate Forcier.
Darius Johnson: Getting the nod at defensive end is Darius Johnson. The IU senior and leader in sacks in 2010 will look to build on an encouraging campaign from last year. Originally signed as a running back he turned DE and has been relatively productive at the position. Quick off the line with an above average spin move he has the ability to create problems for opposing QBs.
Javon Cornley: Probably the most talented member of the Hoosiers defensive line, Cornley will have to prove on the field his talent can translate. The most vulnerable member on the line to lose his spot as a starter is likely Cornley. He is extremely capable of being a top tier Big Ten DE but has yet to show it in his one year of college ball. As for now the tall and long Cornley is the guy that I would slot into the starting DE position but unless he can show it on the field the first person on the depth chart has been making his case loudly in practice.
Ryan Phillis: Redshirt freshman Phillis has been making a ton of noise in the bid for his chance at DE and is likely first in line to take over if Cornley can prove he belongs there. Phillis has an outstanding technique that helps him make up for his size deficiency for the position. He is also getting credited with an outstanding motor and the way some talk about him he reminds me of a Jerry Hughes type player; defensive end in college but fast and athletic enough to play a very good outside linebacker in the right system.
Fred Jones: Senior to be, and the first man to get an opportunity to prove himself in practice, Jones will likely find himself on the depth chart and not as a starter. He has good size for a defensive end but hasn’t really impressed the new coaching regime as much as the guys mentioned previously. The senior is likely to letter but most of his value will be seen during the week and not on the weekends.
Kevin Bush: A former walk-on and Army veteran has taken quite an inspiring path to Indiana football. After serving in Korea and a 14 month stint in Iraq, he walked onto the Hoosiers two years ago. The most impressive thing about Bush is that he is a mountain of a man. "He came back jacked up, looking good," claimed Bush’s high school coach Drew Wood when asked about his return from the military. Obviously that size and strength would offer an advantage in a college game. Likely he’ll see most of his action as a special teams monster and not on the defensive line.
Adarius Rayner: Rayner is one of those strange players that has only been playing football for three years previous to college. Yet his inexperience didn’t keep him from recording 20 sacks his senior year. One would imagine that if he has been that good that quickly at the sport that he is very projectable and capable of growing into something special.
Jake Reed: A 5-A All-State Team member, recorded 51 tackles and 9 sacks last year as an athletic end in a competitive system. Reed is likely more depth currently but has the potential to be a big time contributor in the future.
Bobby Richardson: The poster child for why it is important for lesser programs to get in on projectable guys early is Bobby Richardson. It took until his senior year for him to blow up and garner the attention from bigger schools but it was already too late. IU had made it’s headway early and landed the breakout star. Most people that follow football understand that Florida H.S. football is a different animal from what we experience in Indiana. Florida is to football as Indiana is to basketball. That being said, Richardson had a senior year of 76 tackles, 37 for a loss, 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Need I say more about what he is capable of?
Bernard Taylor: A DT by trade, the incoming freshman had committed to IU, de-committed after the Lynch firing and recommitted in January this year. So I guess you could technically call him Kevin Wilson’s first recruit at Indiana. Likely to be depth this year he did have a big season at DT, recording 67 tackles, 10 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss. He rounds out a strong freshman class at the defensive line in terms of potential but I imagine it will take some time for them to make a push for big playing time.