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Indiana football 2020 position preview: The defensive line

The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2020 Indiana University football season on October 24 against Penn State in Bloomington.

Today we take a look at the defensive line.

A year ago, head coach Tom Allen said the defensive line was one of the biggest question marks on the team.  Unproven talent and questionable depth created uncertainty on the foundation of the defense.

A year later, with almost everyone back and a few breakout seasons in the books, the position projects to be one of the team’s greatest strengths.

The group will be led by a new position coach in 2020.  Kevin Peoples joins the program from Tulane.  He replaces the departed Mark Hagen.


Gavin Everett (Eligibility) and Allen Stallings (Eligibility) have both moved on.  Stallings had a productive senior season that included five sacks.

Madison Norris transferred out of the IU program.



Demarcus Elliott was a high impact junior college transfer in 2019.  He made 35 tackles, 27 solo, with three sacks (17 yards), five for loss (29 yards), one forced fumble and one quarterback hurry in 13 games (12 starts) at tackle.  Elliott was honorable mention all-Big Ten.

Jerome Johnson leads all active Hoosiers with 9.5 sacks (66 yards) and 16.5 tackles for loss (78 yards).  He earned the team’s Chris Dal Sasso Award (Outstanding Lineman) for the second-straight season.  As a junior Johnson posted 43 tackles, 20 solo, five sacks (46 yards), 7.5 for loss (51 yards) and two quarterback hurries.  He started all 13 games and the last 22 at tackle.

James Head, Jr. had a productive sophomore campaign that saw him collect 20 tackles, 14 solo, 2.5 sacks, four for loss, five quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and one forced fumble.  He finished second on the team with five QB hits.  Head is moving from defensive tackle to end, where he seems likely to start.

Sio Nofoagatoto’a rise as a true freshman tackle in 2019 has many excited about his career in Bloomington.  He collected 9 tackles in 10 games, including 3 in the Gator Bowl.

Michael Ziemba made 33 tackles, 20 solo, 6.5 for loss with three quarterback hurries at end in 2019 while playing in all 13 games.  He recovered 2 fumbles.

Alfred Bryant played in all 13 games last year with three starts.  He totaled 25 tackles, 14 solo, four for loss, with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery

Jovan Swann comes to IU from Stanford and appears likely to play a big role in the rotation.

Jonathan King appeared in 7 games at defensive tackle and was the co-defensive player of the week against Northwestern.  He appears headed for an expanded role in 2020.

Tramar Reece appeared in four games at end and registered two tackles with one quarterback hurry.

Shamar Jones played in 8 games at tackle in 2019.


Beau Robbins was a prized in-state 4-star recruit in 2019 that saw limited action as a true freshman.  He is looking to crack a deep rotation in 2020.

C.J. Person appears likely to crack the rotation after playing four games at tackle and redshirting in 2019.

Jeramy Passmore redshirted as a true freshman in 2019.

Antoine Whitner redshirted as a true freshman in 2019.

Damarjhe Lewis was a coveted recruit.  He has already been mentioned several times by the coaching staff.  Whether this year or down the line, he will be a name to know.

Caleb Murphy is an in-state true freshman with long term promise.

Jalen Mayala is a true freshman that will look to add size and get ready to play in 2021.


Michael Ziemba on James Head —

“That man is raw,” Ziemba said. “He is raw, I am not going to lie. He is making plays every day. We all are. I feel that we have all gotten so much better. He is about to have a huge year. He definitely is.”

James Head on the sacks goal —

“I do not want to say it is a goal, but we are trying to get as many sacks as possible,” Head said.  “Every time the quarterback drops back to pass, we are trying to get a sack. However many times that quarterback steps back to pass, that is how many sacks that we want.”

Kevin Peoples on the pass rush —

“The biggest thing that we know that we are going to have to do, whether it is four or five guys, is we have to rush as a unit,” Peoples said.  “We have to work together, keep the quarterback in the pocket, keep them contained and get them off a spot. That is the biggest thing we are trying to do, win one-on-one battles, but at the same time, it is four guys rushing as one. When we do that, we think we have a chance to be successful.”


Elliott and Johnson should be one of the better tackle duos in the Big Ten.  Head, Ziemba and Bryant bring a lot of experience on the end as well.  Behind them is a lot of experienced depth that should allow Peoples to comfortably rotate two or three deep.

Look for Swann to emerge as he continues to gain comfort with the system, and Nofoagatoto’a has a very bright future in the program.

The biggest question is whether this group, and especially the ends, can get to the quarterback.  Pressure is the foundation of the 4-2-5 scheme, but IU was just 72nd nationally with 2 sacks per game in 2019.

With husky Marcelino Ball and his pass rushing capabilities sidelined for the season it will be all the more important that the front four can bring pressure, contain, and take down quarterbacks.

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