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2016 Indiana football preview: Defensive line

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The Hoosiers must replace three defensive line stalwarts, all while implementing a new scheme. Are they up to the task?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Indiana’s line was a relative strength of an often woeful defense. However, the Hoosiers have many bodies to replace up front, and are implementing a new scheme that will increase the number of linemen from three to four. Here’s a preview of what to expect this season in the defensive trenches:

Gone but not forgotten

Indiana will have to replace a lot of production from its front line this season. Nick Mangieri, who recorded 9.5 sacks last year, has graduated, as has Zack Shaw. In addition, Darius Latham jumped to the pros with a year of eligibility remaining. He went undrafted, but is making a name for himself this preseason for the Raiders, who always seem to need help on defense. These three guys combined for over 100 tackles last year, and each had more than 10 tackles for a loss as well. Adarius Rayner and Shawn Heffern have graduated from IU as well.

New scheme and new coach

Under former defensive coordinator Brian Knorr, the Hoosiers used a 3-4 defensive scheme. Now with new DC Tom Allen, Indiana will switch to a more unconventional 4-2-5 scheme. As a result, the Hoosiers will once again be employing four defensive linemen.

In addition, the Hoosiers have brought in a familiar face as the position coach for the defensive line. Mark Hagen, who played for IU during the Bill Mallory era, returns to Bloomington after leaving the high school drama atmosphere of Texas A&M, where he coached the same position. Hagen has previous experience as an IU coach too, as he was on staff during Kevin Wilson’s first two years at Indiana.

Names to know

With many of the starters gone from last year’s defensive line, Indiana will lose the depth it had at the position, which is worrisome considering the defense is adding a lineman to its scheme. However, this could also be a blessing in disguise, because without the veteran presence, many players have a chance to step up, and the competition at the positions should push.

The Thirds

At 6-5 and 320 pounds, Ralph Green III should anchor the defensive line. In his first three seasons, Green has played well and even was a Freshman All-American honorable mention. As a senior, he’ll need to show experience and leadership to a young unit. Junior Robert McCray III came on strong at the end of last season, and seems like the perfect candidate to replace the production that Mangieri and Shaw provided at defensive end.

Goochi Mane

GREG GOOCH. The junior had a great performance in the Bucket Game last year, and will hope to springboard off that to become a key figure on the line this year. Also, his name is Greg Gooch. That’s a great football name right there.

Other returnees

Jacob Robinson saw time in all 13 games last year, and could snag a starting spot as a defensive end this year. Nile Sykes was once a Notre Dame commit, and is another athletic defensive end for the Hoosiers. Nate Hoff and Cincinnati transfer Ja’Merez Bowen are two big bodies who should be able to accompany Green at defensive tackle.

Redshirt freshmen

Joe Belden, an Avon alum and 3-star recruit, already is a well-known name in the state for those who follow high school football and could develop into a starting defensive tackle soon. Brandon Wilson is no relation to the head coach, but Kevin Wilson has already raved about his play in fall camp. The Florida native will be another defensive end to watch out for. In addition, Omari Stringer, a highly-touted recruit out of Illinois, should see his first action as a Hoosier this fall.

Conclusion

Indiana’s defensive line is losing three fixtures, but the unit has some talented returning players, as well as a few exiciting new faces. Implementing a new 4-2-5 scheme will be the challenge early, but if the Hoosiers become acclimated to it quickly, then the defensive line could come together nicely by the time IU begins its gauntlet MSU-OSU-Nebraska start to Big Ten play.