BLOOMINGTON, IN - OCTOBER 08: A.J. Jenkins #8 of the Illinois Illini catches a pass while defended by Lawrence Barnett #23 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game at Memorial Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Bloomington, Indiana. Illinois won 41-20. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
So, the news here was simply horrible last season. Although IU's offense was mediocre (at best), and looks to improve this season, IU's defense was simply awful. They were last in the Big Ten, by a lot, and I didn't come up with much good news in the in-conference stats. They weren't last in overall pass defense (but they were last in pass defense efficiency), and they gave up a lot more points and touchdowns than anyone else in the conference, they notably also gave up the most field goals! I'm not sure what that means other than Hoosier foes were spending a lot of time in the red zone (and uh, scoring 88% of the time). AJ noted that a lot of hope for defensive improvement keys on the new Juco Linebackers. The Secondary looks like they'll improve whether or not the linebackers do, but there's a long way to go all around for the Hoosiers to drag themselves out of the conference cellar on defense. A relevant example here is that the Hoosier Secondary only got five interceptions all year. Five. I think one of Wisconsin's safeties got four all by himself.Left Cornerback: #22 Kenny Mullen, 5-10, 180, So., #9 Greg Heban, 6-1, 191, RS Jr.
Mullen played in all twelve games as a true freshman last season, and started two conference games. He also recorded a sack in back-to-back games against Purdue and Northwestern, so there's potential there. As a more experienced player, hopefully he can start to hold his own against B1G foes. It's a bit surprising to see Heban, who was IU's third-leading tackler last season and two-time defensive player of the week, listed as coming off the bench. I heard Heban's name a lot last season, which was not a good thing for the team. Heban was a former walk-on, and I see him eventually fitting in the starting line-up somewhere (especially since he started every game in 2011), but for now - I do want to see if Mullen can demonstrate some more of that potential.
Right Cornerback: #23 Lawrence Barnett, 5-10, 187, RS Jr. OR #6 Brian Williams, 6-0, 185, RS So.
The only OR listed in the depth chart is at RCB. Brian Williams played in only four games last season, so to see him listed alongside the team's returning fourth-leading tackler (and co-leader for pass break-ups) Lawrence Barnett is a bit of a surprise. Williams certainly has the height on Barnett, but Barnett has the experience (nine starts last season).
Safety (starters): #37 Mark Murphy, 6-2, 2-6, So., #8 Drew Hardin 6-0, 208, RS So.
Mark Murphy earned a spot on the All-Big Ten freshman team last season as the Hoosiers second leading tackler, starting nine games as a true freshman. Three of those starts were at linebacker, so hopefully he won't be called in to fill that gap again this season. He also was named defensive player of the week for picking off a pass against North Texas and returning 31 yards for a TD. Drew Hardin was a redshirt freshman last season who still notched four starts and was IU's Special Teams' player of the week against Iowa . Hardin needs to be able step forward a little bit as a starter, but it's certainly a reasonable expectation that he'd be growing into the role at this point.
Safety (back-ups): #19 Ryan Thompson, 5-10, 195, Jr., #27 Alexander Webb, 6-0, 200 Sr. (5th)
Alexander Webb, after not seeing any PT his first two seasons, played in eight games, had two starts, and was the defensive player of the week against OSU. Unfortunately, that was the game that ended his season due to injury (broken arm). Ryan Thompson is the one Juco picke-up in the secondary, although he enrolled in the Spring Semester and practiced last season. Both Webb and Thompson should provide good depth at the Safety position, and I could see Webb taking over a starting spot if Hardin has any trouble.
With Murphy and Mullen being asked to carry heavy loads as true freshmen, and you thow in the fact that back-ups Hardin and Williams were also seeing their first year of action, it's understandable that the Secondary might've had a tough year. And Hoosier fans should definitely expect a better year out of the Secondary in 2012, although "success" relative to last season may still not look much like in comparison to the rest of the conference. However, this group does seem poised for improvement, and if the linemen and linebackers are both improved as well, there really could be a synergetic improvement that actually puts this defense at a high enough level to consistently give the offense a chance to win.