The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final 10 days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2018 Indiana University football season on September 1 at Florida International.
Today we take a look at the defensive line.
There will be a recurring theme as we look at the 2018 IU defense — important players have moved on, and important players are back. The Hoosiers only return four starters on defense. Nevertheless there is returning veteran leadership at each level.
A core of seniors on the defensive line will look to lead the way for coach Mark Hagen’s unit. Behind them is a deep but relatively untested crew that is going to get to play this season. Hagen has spoken more than once about the plan to keep snaps down via a healthy rotation here.
The rotation approach should help prevent IU from getting worn down by the run, where the finished 9th in the Big Ten giving up 160 yards per game. That number will need to improve despite the loss of veteran leaders.
There isn’t likely to be one player that is a dominant force on this line. It looks to be very much a committee approach where guys take advantage of the opportunities that are presented by the system and the individual game situations.
There may not be a more important group on the team in terms needing to exceed expectations. When Big Ten play begins, IU’s defensive line will need to be able to get push and free up the linebackers, or things could get sideways in hurry.
WHO IS GONE
The Hoosiers had substantial losses on the defensive line from 2017. Most notable are Greg Gooch, Nate Hoff, and Robert McCray, who used all of their eligibility. McCray and Gooch combined for 10.5 sacks last year. McCray is currently on the Kansas City Chiefs’ preseason roster.
WHO IS BACK
The senior leaders are Jacob Robinson, Mike Barwick, Nile Sykes, and Ja’Merez Bowen.
Robinson is the only returning starter from 2017. He was tied for the lead on the defensive line last year in tackles with 26, and he had four sacks which was good for fourth on the team.
Sykes’ missed all of 2017 after an injury. He played in all 13 games in 2016, totaling five sacks and seven tackles for a loss.
Allen Stallings, Jerome Johnson, Joshua Brown and Gavin Everett should all see significant action as well. Everett was in the headlines last week after the former walk-on received a scholarship.
Michael Ziemba is a rising sophomore and a name to know.
WHO IS NEW
Kayton Samuels is a graduate transfer from Syracuse that should be able to add size and depth. Indiana had several strong defensive line recruits in the 2018 class including Jonathan King, James Head and Madison Norris — but this is a tough position to see playing time as a true freshman. Each could get a test run under the new redshirt rule.
Tom Allen has also specifically called out the performance of Shamar Jones, a true freshman from Pennsylvania, indicating that he has come in and done a nice job and has a chance to have a niche for the team, skill-set-wise.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Mark Hagen gave an update last week:
It’s cliche, but it starts up front. IU has been strong for consecutive seasons with getting to the quarterback and getting tackles for losses. Indiana ranked 4th and 3rd in those categories in the Big Ten in 2017, respectively. How much of that was the players vs. the system? We’re about to find out.
The first three games will be key here. If Robinson, Sykes and Barwick can lead, and a solid core of rotational contributors can establish themselves and fill in behind them, then perhaps the collective unit will be ready to compete and impact games by the Big Ten opener.
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