The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2019 Indiana University football season on August 31 against Ball State in Indianapolis.
Today we take a look at the defensive line.
For several months, Indiana head coach Tom Allen hasn’t hesitated when quizzed on the position group on his team that had the most question marks going into the 2019 season.
In late May Allen said this about the defensive line when asked which unit had the most ground to make up:
“I would say that depth at the defensive line is a concern,” Allen said. “We’ve got some young guys that have got to step up.”
Nearly three months later, some new names have emerged, but the defensive line continues to be the group with the most to prove.
WHO IS GONE
Indiana lost some key veteran leadership on its front four, and that 2018 unit was one that was itself relatively thin on depth and experience.
Most noteworthy are the losses of Jacob Robinson (Eligibility), Nile Sykes (Eligibility), Mike Barwick (Eligibility), Kayton Samuels (Eligibility), and Ja’Merez Bowen (Eligibility).
Sykes and Barwick had 26 and 28 tackles respectively in 2018 while playing in all 12 games, with the former adding three sacks.
Robinson was looking forward to a strong senior season before losing much of the campaign to injury.
While none of the losses are irreplaceable, the Hoosiers still have a lot of voids left by solid contributors.
THE 2019 ROSTER
WHO IS BACK
IU fans will likely welcome the return of names on the back of the jerseys with this group.
End Allen Stallings is perhaps the most recognizable name. He returns after posting two sacks and six tackles for a loss last year.
Tackle Jerome Johnson showed an ability at times to be very impactful in the middle and led the team with 3.5 sacks.
End Gavin Everett started in all 11 games that he appeared in and was tied for third with 5.5 tackles for a loss.
Collectively that trio would seem to be clear starters.
Also returning are Shamar Jones, Madison Norris, Alfred Bryant, Gavin McCabe and Tramar Reece.
NAMES ON THE RISE / IMPACT NEWCOMERS
If the defensive line ends up being a plus for this team, it will be names that are not as familiar right now that emerge over the course of the season.
Look for the following relatively inexperienced players to get an extensive opportunity in 2019 as IU looks to round out its rotations:
- James Head (end)
- Jonathan King (tackle)
- Michael Ziemba (end)
- Demarcus Elliot (tackle)
- Juan Harris (tackle)
One of King, Elliot or Harris should end up starting but all of them will play. Head and Ziemba appear likely to be the “twos” on the depth chart and both should play extensively as well.
True freshmen Beau Robbins, Sio Nofoagatoto’a, Jeramy Passmore and C.J. Person could all figure into the rotations in their first year as well.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Mark Hagen gave an update earlier in the month:
Allen often says that pressure on the quarterback is the key to the success of his defense. Whether it is occupying blockers or getting penetration, pressure starts with the line.
Similarly, you can’t stop the run in the Big Ten without good size and push up front.
While Indiana has some solid size and experience towards the top of its depth chart, there are more questions than answers right now.
The answers to those questions will become even more important as games wear on into the second half and Indiana’s depth is tested.
With only two seniors in this group, the defensive line could become a strength of the team down the road.
But for now, we will have to wait until the season begins, and specifically the Ohio State game in week three, before we have a good read on what the Hoosiers have here.
Simply put, the success or failure of this group might dictate whether IU’s defense can hold up against the highest levels of the Big Ten.
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