MnB B1G Preview 2013: Is Indiana defenseless?

Jonathan Daniel

What has 22 thumbs and has been the worst defense in the Big Ten for going on forever? That would be Indiana's 11 defensive starters. Is there hope for improvement this year?

The Numbers:

Rush Defense: 231 ypg (116th nationally, 12th conference)
Pass Eff. Defense: 145.52 (98th, 11th)
Total Defense: 464 ypg (103rd, 12th)

Scoring Defense: 35 ppg (101st, 12th)

The Team:

Being bad on the defensive side of the ball is nothing new in Bloomington. In the last five seasons the Hoosiers have been no better than eighth in any of the major defensive statistics. There are better years where they hover around ninth or tenth. Then there are years like 2011 when the Hoosiers were dead last in all four categories.

Last year's Hoosier team was much the same. Bad against the run and bad against the pass. Indiana gave up 40+ points as many times as it held teams under that mark (six each), and three of those high scoring affairs ended with more than 50 points allowed.

The problems started at the point of attack where Indiana was pushed around to the tune of 230 rush yards allowed per game despite being 19th nationally in TFLs per game. That is a lot of yards given up to negate what is a good number of negative plays made.

In what is probably bad news, Indiana is losing quite a bit of production along its front line. Both seniors Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. (older brother of Michigan's Jibreel Black) are gone from the defensive tackle spots, leaving what looks like two second year players, RS Fr. Ralphael Green and So. Alex Todd, look to be the favorites to start in the middle with JUCO transfer Jordan Heiderman and little used backup Adarius Rayner backing them up. For an already porous run defense to lose its two centerpieces might be considered a good thing, but both Indiana's DTs were multi-year starters and had led the team in sacks and TFLs a year ago. They leave big shoes to fill.

On the outside Indiana will get back four guys with experience. Both RS Jr. Ryan Phillips and RS. So. Zack Shaw should be locks to start after holding down those spots last season, and their replacements, Jr.'s Bobby Richardson and John Laihinen, played in reserve roles a year ago. It would be reasonable to expect improvement here, but that might not be enough to make up for the losses inside.

The linebacking corp gets back some experience as well. David Cooper returns after holding down the middle as a starter in all 12 games last year and racking up the second most tackles on the team. Beside him will be Chase Hoobler at the SLB spot. Hoobler started for stretches over the past two seasons but was kept out of six games last season because of injury. Both missed spring practice with injury. The weakside position will be filled by Griffen Dahlstrom, a fifth year senior that broke into the starting lineup midway through last season.

If all three can remain healthy, this unit should improve just on the grounds of consistency. However, Forisse Hardin got plenty of time on the strongside last year and was sixth on the team in tackles, and he will be joined in the linebacker two-deep by freshman TJ Simmons, a true freshman out of Florida, and Steven Funderburk, a transfer that started his career at Tulane.

In the secondary Indiana will also get both safeties back. Greg Heban, a former walk on, led the team in tackles a year ago (hey Michigan fans, remember how much it sucks to have a safety lead the team in tackles?) and as a fifth year senior he will be the elder statesman of the unit. He will be joined by Mark Murphy, a junior and the team's third leading tackler a year ago (remember when I said this defense was bad at stopping the run? When safeties make this many tackles, it tells you something.)

The outsides will also be covered by an experienced duo as Antonio Marshall and Kenny Mullen are back at corner. Marshall won the job midway through the year after joining the team as a JUCO transfer, and is in his final year of eligibility. Mullen started five games a year ago and appeared in 11.

Backing these four secondary players up are two sophomores and two juniors. Corners Michael Hunter and Brian Williams both have playing time under their belt -- Williams having started three games in 2012 and Hunter having played in all 12 -- and could potentially challenge for a starting spot. Tim Bennett has some starting experience at safety, while Dawson Fletcher was primarily a scout team player a year ago.

What it means:

There are two things we know about Indiana's defense going into 2013. First, a lot of players with starting experience or reserve experience are coming back. Outside of losing both DTs, Indiana has at least a partial year starter from 2012 back at every position.

Second, and a big asterisk on the first point: Indiana was really, really bad at defense a year ago with all these guys playing largely the same role as they will play this year.

Does another year of starting experience for a fourth or fifth year player mean any improvement will come? Can this unit come together enough to gloss over the obvious deficiencies present? At what point is a bad defense just bad no matter how experienced?

The optimist would look at this defense and forecast improvement. A lot of players will be back and a couple guys should be healthy. The depth chart isn't filled with true freshmen or huge question marks.

The pessimist would look at this same defense and worry. Indiana's two losses might be the two biggest. Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle led the team in both sacks and TFLs a year ago, and have been contributors for years before that. And they led the team in those stats from the defensive tackle position. These weren't pass rushing defensive ends that are supposed to soak up all the glory boy stats. These were two big lugs in the middle that were supposed to eat blocks and do the dirty work and they still did more to move opposing offenses backward than anyone else.

To me, that is a foreboding sign going forward. Yes, Indiana returns a lot of players, but those could just be the wrong ones. Indiana could improve in 2013 given just how much experience is back, but I wouldn't look for a big improvement unless a few of these players can make a serious leap in production to make up for what was lost to graduation.

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