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2008 Indiana Preview - Defense
Indiana DE Greg Middleton
Indiana DE Greg Middleton
Posted Apr 28, 2008 2008 Preview - Indiana Hoosier Defense

Indiana Hoosiers

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Indiana Preview | 2008 Indiana Offense
- 2008 Indiana Defense | 2008 Indiana Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Indiana Preview | 2006 CFN Indiana Preview 

What you need to know
: While the defense wasn't great, and was hardly consistent, it was far better than it had been in several years. Now there's plenty of hope for one of the best defensive seasons the program has had in a long, long time with pass rushing terror Greg Middleton and solid tackle Greg Brown starring up front, Will Patterson and Geno Johnson leading a strong linebacking corps, and the defensive backs all just good enough to not be a weakness. Finding a second corner on the other side of Chris Phillips will be job one, and not buckling against the better running teams will be a must, but all the pieces are there for a good season.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Austin Thomas, 112
Sacks: Greg Middleton, 16
Interceptions: Nick Polk, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Greg Middleton
Player who has to step up and become a star: Someone at the second CB spot opposite Chris Phillips
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Matt Mayberry
Best pro prospect: Middleton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Middleton, 2) DT Greg Brown, 3) LB Will Patterson
Strength of the defense: Defensive end, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, cornerback

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The team's defensive improvement started with one player, junior Greg Middleton, who led the nation with 16 sacks to go along with 17 tackles for loss, 50 tackles, and four broken up passes. A 6-3, 275-pound end who has NFL written all over him, he has excellent closing speed once he gets into the backfield and is always working to get into the backfield. He'll move around a little bit and should line up at times at tackle just to give offenses a different look now and then, and he'll have to get used to constant double and triple teams.

While Middleton is the star, senior Greg Brown is the anchor. The 6-2, 300-pound tackle has been the anchor for the last few years and is coming off his best season yet making 50 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He's coming off shoulder surgery and was out this spring, but he's expected to be fine by the fall. The line needs him to be the run stuffer everything works around.

Working next to Brown will likely be Deonte Mack, 6-3, 282-pound sophomore, but he was out this spring hurt with a shoulder problem and didn't get a chance to take the job. He bulked up big-time after playing at 260 pounds last year, making 18 tackles as a reserve. If nothing else, he'll be a key part of the rotation.

With everyone focusing on Middleton, junior Jammie Kirlew needs to come up with a great year, and if this spring was any indication, he will. A great athlete, he has tremendous speed and quickness in a 6-3, 266-pound frame, and he showed some pass rushing potential making 4.5 sacks with 12.5 tackles for loss and 57 stops last year, but three of the sacks came against Iowa.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for the starting tackle job next to Brown are brother Kevin Burrus and Keith Burrus. Keith, a junior, has been a nice reserve for the last few year making nine tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. While he's a good interior pass rusher, he's not huge at 6-3 and 285 pounds.

Kevin, a junior, has the 6-2, 312-pound size to help against the run, making 11 tackles last year, but he's not the athletic inside presence his brother is. The former JUCO transfer has the bulk to start on the nose, but first he has to get healthy after missing time this spring with a knee injury.

Bringing more speed to the equation is Ryan Marando, a 6-2, 251-pound senior who made five sacks and six tackles for loss along with 20 tackles. the former tight end is a pure pass rushing specialist who steps in on third downs when Middleton plays inside.

Watch Out For ... the ends to be stronger against the run. It's not like Middleton and Kirlew were bad run stoppers, but each has put on weight and should be bulkier against the Big Ten big boys.
Strength: Pass rush. Middleton and Kirlew should be the most dangerous pass rushing tandem in the Big Ten, while Marando is great at getting to the quarterback. If Kirlew can be more consistent, this could be the strength of the team.
Stopping the run. The run defense wasn't awful, but the teams that could run the ball were able to rip through the line. The Michigan State game was a nightmare, Wisconsin had few problems shoving around the front four, and Oklahoma State and Illinois did whatever they wanted.
Outlook: With more size, more experience, and a future NFL first rounder in Middleton to work around, this should be the best IU line in several years. The pass rushing has to be consistent and the bulk needs to be a factor against the better running teams, but overall, this should be one of the team's biggest strengths.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters
The linebacking corps is set now that the middle has been established. 6-2, 236-pound junior Matt Mayberry appears to be a fine fill-in for Adam McClurg, the team's third leading tackler, after making 42 stops and 1.5 tackles for loss. After hitting the weight room hard, he's bigger and should be more physical. While he has to prove to be as solid as McClurg, he's a far better athlete.

Returning to his spot on the weakside will be 6-1, 235-pound junior Will Patterson, the team's second leading tackler with 104 stops with two sacks, eight tackles for loss, an interception, and three force fumbles. While he might be part of a rotation a bit more this year, he's expected to blossom into an All-Big Ten star with his all-around range and ability.

Also looking to come up with an all-star season is 6-2, 228-pound senior Geno Johnson, the starter on the strongside throughout last year. A good tackler with great range, he's a bulked up safety who has grown into the role. He has enough peed to be used more as a steady pass rusher  after making just one sack and three tackles for loss last season, but he's a decent tackler with 58 stops.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Justin Carrington isn't going to push Mayberry out of a spot on the weakside, but he's good enough to start. The former running back moved over last year and had a strong year as a backup making 37 tackles with two tackles for loss. Now that he knows what he's doing, he should be even better.

Ready to burst on the scene is Darius Johnson, one of the stars of spring ball. The 6-0, 245-pound redshirt freshman has been a weight room superstar over his first year and now has the bulk to add to his running back athleticism. A huge hitter on the strongside, he'll rotate behind Geno Johnson this year and will be the starter next season. He could move to the middle if needed.

Sophomore Tyler Replogle is a tough, active defender in the middle making eight tackles in a limited role, and while he's versatile enough to play any of the three positions, he tore his ACL six games into his true freshman season and was limited throughout spring ball. Originally an outside linebacker last year, he's work inside.

Watch Out For ... the young guys. Carrington and Darius Johnson aren't going to take over starting jobs this year, but they showed that there's plenty of good depth waiting in the wings on the outside. They'll be a bigger part of the rotation sooner than later.
Strength: Speed and quickness. The corps has been built around smallish, fast defenders who can fly around the ball. All three spots have players who can move, and the middle got a whole bunch faster with Mayberry taking over.
Consistent production. This group was fine against the mediocre, but everyone who wanted to power run the ball, did. With experience and time in the weight room, the corps should be better in all three spots, but it'll have to show it can slow down the Michigan State and Illinois running games as well as it can the Murray State ground attack.
Outlook: The overall grand idea under the late Terry Hoeppner was to go with small, quick, athletic linebackers who could make up for their lack of size by swarming and gang-tackling. That didn't work at first, but it started to last season. Now those undersized defenders have had time in the weight room making this a normal-sized corps that can move. It might not be a spectacular group, but it should be solid with good depth and all-star potential on the outside.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The biggest question mark going into the off-season was at cornerback, especially replacing all-star ball-hawker, Tracy Porter. 6-0, 185-pound senior Chris Phillips has emerged as the team's new No. 1 after making 12 tackles and three interceptions with four broken up passes last year. While he's not Porter, he's great at jamming and beating up receivers, but while he'll make his share of big plays and big hits, he'll get torched a bit too much.

Trying to take over on the other side will be 5-10, 205-pound redshirt freshman Donnell Jones, a very green player with huge upside. In practices, he plays faster than he is and he isn't afraid to get physical. While he'll get picked on and will have a major battle on his hands for the starting job, he might be the best option of the bunch.

Back at his free safety spot is Nick Polk after finishing fifth on the team with 74 tackles with two interceptions and five broken up passes. The former receiver spent all of last year trying to figure out what he was doing, and often played like a wide receiver trying to be a defensive back, but outside of a hamstring issue this spring, he appears to be on the verge of becoming a special defender. The junior has the speed, and he has the 6-0, 215-pound size to be a big hitter.

6-2, 200-pound junior Austin Thomas led the team in tackles last season with 112 stops, but while he's been great as the last line of defense against the run, he's mediocre when the ball is in the air. A huge, tone-setting hitter, he has to be a better pass defender after making just one interception with three broken up passes. He'll be replaced from time to time on pure passing downs.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking for time at corner will be Bruce Hampton, a 5-10, 195-pound junior who made one tackle before suffering a major knee injury. He had the speed and he has the skills before the injury to be a good one, but he still might need another year before he has all the movement and all the same athleticism back.

Also looking for a corner job will be 6-0, 177-pound sophomore Adrian Burks, a great athlete who made just two tackles in five games last year. The job is wide open and he'll have to fight for it, but he has the upside to get a long look this fall.

While Thomas is a great run defending strong safety, he's lacking as a pass defender leaving a role open for senior Brandon Mosley, a 5-8, 204-pound special teamer who made eight tackles last season. Purely a backup, if he starts making big plays against the pass, he'll see more time.

Senior Joe Kleinsmith is a reliable reserve free safety making 19 tackles with an interception. The former kicker has been fine, and he'll see plenty of time when a fifth defensive back is needed, but he'll mostly work behind Polk as an occasional sub.

Watch Out For ... the second corner spot. While Jones might have the biggest upside and should be the best option, the gig is wide open for the taking. Whomever ends up there will get picked on as teams try to stay away from Phillips.
Strength: Hitting safeties. Thomas might cover like a linebacker, but he also hits like one. Polk is emerging as a possible star now that he's more comfortable in the free safety job.
Pass coverage. Despite having one of the nation's best pass rushes to help the cause, and with great corners in Tray Porter and Leslie Majors, the secondary was mediocre, at best. This group can tackle, but it's not going to shut anyone down.
Outlook: A slight disappointment last year, the secondary should be fine, but nothing special, as it replaces its two star corners. There's decent overall depth and the safeties should be great, but a second corner has to show up in a hurry to help out Phillips on the other side.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Senior Austin Starr has gone from good to Lou Groza Award great. The 6-3, 204 pounder nailed 12 of 15 field goals as a sophomore, and then connected on 21 of 23 kicks last year including 11 of 12 from 40-to-49 yards. He has the leg to start getting some chances from beyond 50.

Former punter Michael Hines as good, especially at putting the ball inside the 20, which he did 21 times last year, but he's not irreplaceable. Getting the first shot will be 6-5, 207-pound redshirt freshman Chris Hagerup, a big-legged bomber who can air it out more than Hines, but he's wildly inconsistent.

Tracy Porter was a top punt returner averaging 11 yards per try, and now it'll be up to the speedy Ray Fisher to try to step in and take over. RB Marcus Thigpen is one of the nation's premier kick returners averaging 22.9 yards per try last year after averaging 30.1 yards per try in 2006.

Watch Out For ... the punting game. Hagerup has the leg to force the coaching staff to fight through the problems, but the job has remained open for someone, possibly sophomore Kyle Lembeck, to step in and take it over.
Strength: Starr and Thigpen. Teams figured out to do everything possible to keep Thigpen from coming up with a big return, but he's still a weapon. Starr might be the nation's best kicker inside 50 yards.
Uncertainty at punter. Hagerup could be an Achilles heel if he shanks one in a key spot. The kickoff coverage could be better after giving up 22.3 yards per try.
Outlook: If Hagerup and the punting game can come through and be serviceable, the special teams should be terrific. Starr has hit 33 of 38 field goals over the last two years, and Fisher and Thigpen will be great on returns.
Rating: 8