Mike Ekeler was brought in from Nebraska to be co-defensive coordinator and linebacker coach so the responsibility falls onto him to put the best unit on the field that can compete with the top of the conference. It is certainly a tall order for him as IU has always been a destination of as one reader put it so eloquently "David Ecksteins in shoulder pads" (s/o to hoosierdaddynow). Most of these players on the depth chart are full of heart and drive but can that translate to on the field capabilities? Let’s take a look.
Jeff Thomas: Junior colleges are one of those resources that many large programs know how to mine for hidden gems that took some time to grow into the college game. That is precisely where Jeff Thomas came from. The red shirt senior out of Foothill Community College in Los Altos Hills, CA made the jump from depth chart to starter by week four of last year. He will likely start at middle line backer and try to cause havoc in a high pressure defensive scheme. He finished second on the team in tackles behind graduating senior Adam Tyler Replogle. His weakness is in pass coverage but with a summer under Ekeler that should change or his role will switch to a more pressure friendly position of outside linebacker.
Chase Hoobler: Another Ohio native, Hoobler is a redshirt freshman that is looking to be the most likely heir to the third linebacker position in the starting lineup. Hoobler is touted for his great football instincts and is a strong tackler. The big thing he is lacking is speed, so it will make him slightly vulnerable in coverage. It’s tough to say where he’s going to wind up but I think his size and ability would make him a better candidate for MLB over Thomas. Thomas would probably benefit most from an OLB position anyway so I’d imagine Chase will wind up in the middle with Thomas and Beckum on either side of him.
Zack Shaw: Shaw is truly the wildcard in the LB situation. An incoming true freshman, Shaw is likely the star of his recruitment class. He had a tremendous high school career in Ohio and Rivals had him rated as a 4 star recruit and ranked 232 nationally. There is no doubt that he will get plenty of field time it’s just a matter of whether he’ll find his way into a starting OLB spot this season or just work the rotation. The smart money is on the former rather than the latter.
Brandon McGhee: A returning senior, McGhee will likely be a provider of depth at the LB position rather than significant minutes. Instead he will likely see the majority of his time in a special teams roll. He was special teams player of the week after the trip to D.C. to play Penn State last year and will likely continue with that role while providing quality practice minutes at LB.
Chad Sherer: A Hamilton Heights graduate and Cicero, IN native, redshirt junior Chad Sherer, started three times last year and collected 25 tackles. He will likely garner some time in the LB rotation throughout the year as he has the ability to play both strong side and weak side linebacker. He was also named one of special teams players of the year and should provide some reinforcement in the kicking game.
Griffen Dahlstrom: A special teamer as a redshirt freshman last year, Dahlstrom did get some play in the early season against the likes of Towson and Akron. His strengths are in his instincts and high football IQ. That should help him compete for some playing time on the first team defense but he’ll likely settle back into the same role that he played last year. Depth and and a special teams wrecking ball.
Lee Rose: Likely a player providing depth, Rose made his debut against Towson and got a couple looks at the field against Purdue but that was it. A scout team player of the week, he has offered a good look for offenses in practice and will look to compete for some field time at least on special teams. Rose has a history of a leadership role (Defensive team captain of North Carolina Shire Bowl team and team MVP in 2006) he has the ability to step in and lead at practice and show his value through the week.
Dimitrius Carr-Watson: A hard player to get a read on, Carr-Watson has moved all over the place in his college career so far. He saw time as a freshman at LB but then moved to fullback during 2011 and then has come back to the LB position. He’s listed with the LBs but I think the best opportunity for him is at the FB position and he will likely remain there for the 2012 season as well.
Ishmael Thomas: An incredibly capable back, Thomas is just lacking one key thing for Big Ten play, size. If he adds size and strength he could be very competitive on the field. He is what hoosierdaddynow stated previously. Thomas is the David Eckstein of football currently. This isn’t a knock against him, in fact it is a compliment. He is still quite good despite his lack of size. If he can add some size and strength he could be better than good.
Matt Zakrzewski: A big kid, Zakrzewski did see some time at RB in the spring training season but will be back at LB throughout the season. Look for him to use his size and speed as a big help on special teams and some specialty defensive packages on the field. He also has some potential to see some fullback during the season depending upon the packages Kevin Wilson sets up for his offense.
Kyle Kennedy: A Cathedral high school graduate, Kennedy knows what success looks like. The incoming freshman played in two state championships and one final four game. Rivals named him and our next player as most likely to redshirt this season. He is a very capable LB but needs some time to grow into a college body for a college game. Look for him to make an impact in years to come.
Tyler Adam Mike Replogle: You are correct, this is the third brother to pass through this IU program in five years. Older brother and top LB, Tyler graduated. Adam is going to see a lot of time at DT this year and Mike is likely to redshirt. Like Kennedy he just needs time to grow. Come back next year to see how his growing year turned out.
Joe Damisch: As a quick aside, Joe Damisch will be a likely redshirt freshman as well. Not much can be said about the walk-on, but I wanted to make note that he is brother of OL Marc Damisch. Add in Gunner Kiel next year and we will have a team of legacies, with at least 4 sets of brothers (two yet uncovered are twit safeties from Louisville) all going through Bloomington.