Stop us if you’ve heard this line before — Indiana enters the season with a new defensive coordinator.
That is once again the case in 2016, as the Hoosiers look forward to their third defensive coordinator under head coach Kevin Wilson. Given the dismal results in year two of the Brian Knorr 3-4 experiment a change really did need to be made.
In comes former USF defensive coordinator Tom Allen and a new 4-2-5 hybrid defense that worked wonders in helping to turn the Bulls around last season. Can the same thing happen for Indiana in quick fashion this season?
Normally losing every single starter off a defensive line would be a worrisome situation. However, with Indiana giving up 195 yards on the ground (13th in the B1G) and ranking dead last in the Big Ten in passing defense, total defense and scoring defense change may not be so bad.
Those changes also include a new defensive line coach in former IU linebacker Mark Hagen as the D-line coach.
With all three regular starters off the 3-4 defense of Brian Knorr gone, a whole new foursome comes in to play in the new scheme. That group is going to be really raw in the beginning, with no returning defensive lineman ranking higher than 15th on the total tackle list last season (Robert McCray III with 17).
Ironically, McCray may not even get a start in the 4-2-5 look going on in Bloomington, Ind. and it should be an interesting battle between sophomore Jacob Robinson and him for one starting end position. What will be really interesting to watch all fall camp will be the development of junior converted linebacker Greg Gooch. He is slated as the starter next to Robinson/McCrary and could finally bring the pass rush needed to kick-start the defense.
As for defensive tackle, Nate Hoff appeared in 11 games in mostly mop-up duty, recording just four tackles in the process. However, the coaching staff has liked what they’ve seen from him so far up the middle and he could be a potential breakout candidate along the defensive line.
He’ll be joined inside by senior Ralph Green III, who came up with 17 tackles last season and is the lone experienced player returning on the line. He has to be the anchor, but consistency has always been his biggest question mark throughout his career.
If there is such a thing as a strong point on this defense, it is the linebacker group.
Returning players like T.J. Simmons, Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver all have talent but also need to be way more consistent against the run. The good news is that all but Oliver are juniors and have plenty of potential still to be reached.
The question is which of the three will actually get to start given there are only two positions available. If raw talent is any indication than the edge certainly goes to Scales and Oliver, who combined for 174 tackles last season (112 from Oliver, 64 from Scales). However, Simmons could be a better fit within the new scheme and a lot of this will be sorted out during fall practice.
For whatever reason, this group of talented players never got the chance they should’ve to shine in the 3-4 scheme designed for linebackers to do just that. This switch should be an even bigger opportunity, but a lot is going to depend on what is happening in front of them too.
I guess you can call the Husky position within the 4-2-5 scheme a member of the secondary, but whatever position group that player really belongs to is anyone’s guess at this point. As for the player most likely to fill that role? Look for JUCO transfer Jayme Thompson to be that person.
The 6-2, 188-pound player out of Iowa Western Junior College is expected to play a huge role for a secondary that was torched by just about anyone and everyone the Hoosiers played against. Also watch out for South Carolina transfer Wesley Green, who could be the depth needed at cornerback.
Joining them in the secondary is intriguing cornerback Rashard Fant and free safety Chase Dutra. As long as both stay healthy it should be a good enough pairing to help decrease the number of passing yards given up.
Opposite of Fant at cornerback should be sophomore Andre Brown Jr., who appeared in 10 games last season as a freshman and was 10th on the team in tackles. Fellow sophomores Leon Thorton and Tyler Green will likely back up at cornerback in 2016.
The real star of the group could be sophomore strong safety Jonathan Crawford, who was second on the team with 76 tackles last season. He wasn’t just a tackling machine either, racking up four interceptions and 1.0 sacks and tackles for loss while basically playing the deepest player on the field most of the time.
Look for Fant, Dutra and Crawford to make huge leaps in their levels of play this upcoming season if Allen’s coaching is any indication.
Our Projected Starters
DE: Robert McCray III, Jr.
DT: Nate Hoff, Jr.
NT: Ralph Green, Sr.
DE: Greg Gooch, Jr.
LB: Marcus Oliver, Jr.
LB: Tegray Scales, Jr.
HUSKY: Jayme Thompson, Jr.
CB: Rashard Fant, Jr.
SS: Jonathan Crawford, So.
FS: Chase Dutra, Jr.
CB: Andre Brown, So.