The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2021 Indiana football season on Sept. 4 against Iowa.
Today we take a look at the defensive line.
While the back seven generated all of the headlines in 2020, Indiana’s defensive line was much improved. And while unheralded, the interior group was a strength of the team.
Still, head coach Tom Allen wants more splash plays from his front four, and he will have plenty of new experienced faces to look to as the unit tries to keep the positive momentum going.
WHO IS GONE
The defensive line was hit hard by departures, including two key members of the core rotation.
The headliner was tackle Jerome Johnson, who earned first team All-Big Ten honors in 2020. Johnson chose to forego his extra year of eligibility. He was signed then waived by the Miami Dolphins.
Jovan Swann also gave up his final year of eligibility. He is with the Baltimore Ravens this preseason trying to make the 53-man roster.
Tramar Reece, Jalen Mayala, Jeramy Passmore and Damarjhe Lewis all transferred.
THE 2021 ROSTER
RETURNING WITH EXPERIENCE
Sio Nofoagatoto’a and Demarcus Elliott are the likely starters on the interior. Both are entering their third years with the program and both have been impact players. Nofoagatoto’a has appeared in 18 games with two starts, while Elliott has played in 20 games and started 18 times. Elliott was honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2019.
C.J. Person has played in 12 games and made his first career start against Wisconsin last year and he had four solo tackles in that game. If he doesn’t force his way into the starting lineup he will see a lot of playing time as a key piece of the rotation. He was IU’s 2020 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Shamar Jones, Gavin McCabe and Antoine Whitner are all returners who will be trying to crack the rotation, with the edge going to Jones and McCabe based on fall camp. Walk-on Christian Love has also impressed at fall camp.
James Head, Jr. has played in 32 games over three season with 20 starts. He has four career sacks and is someone the staff is hoping can build on that number this season.
Jonathan King has played in 15 games and got his first career start in 2020 at Wisconsin.
(Note: We will discuss players listed at the “Bull” or outside linebacker position with the linebackers)
NAMES ON THE RISE/IMPACT NEWCOMERS
Indiana brought in three new players from the transfer portal and has several more looking to move up the depth chart.
Weston Kramer wasn’t a highly publicized transfer from Northern Illinois, but he has made waves at fall camp and appears to be in line for a significant role in 2021. He played in 45 games at defensive tackle with 30 starts from 2017-20. Kramer owns 97 tackles, 38 solo, 3.5 sacks, 12.5 for loss, and two pass breakups.
Caleb Murphy has gone back and forth between defensive end and tight end but now appears to be settled back in with the defense.
Ryder Anderson arrives at IU from Ole Miss and has the early look of someone who can get to the quarterback. He is a likely starter at defensive end. He played in 37 games (14 starts) for the Rebels. Anderson has collected 99 tackles, 38 solo, 6.5 sacks, 15 stops for loss, 17 quarterback hurries, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one pass breakup, and one blocked punt in his career.
Jaren Handy transferred from Auburn. He was ranked the No. 100 overall prospect nationally in the 247Sports class of 2019 composite rankings. Handy played in seven games at defensive end in 2020 for the Tigers. He collected three stops, two for loss, a sack, one pass breakup, and one quarterback hurry. Handy has emerged as fall camp has progressed and projects to be a major contributor. He can also play the bull position.
Beau Robbins is entering his third season with the program. The in-state product has made a positive impression at fall camp might start to see more action this year.
Cooper Jones is a highly touted in-state true freshman with a bright future in the program.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Defensive line coach Kevin Peoples on what is needed from the group —
“Anytime you can get production out of your defensive line, you can get more pass rush and you don’t have to blitz to get the pass rush, it’s a huge benefit. Those are things we’re trying to work on. We’re trying to make sure we’re doing our job within the scheme and making the plays that come to us. One big thing with Coach (Charlton) Warren is creating havoc. We have a havoc leader every single day and that’s tackles for loss, forced fumbles, sacks, pass breakups, and interceptions. That’s a huge focus for our defensive line and a huge focus for our entire defense.”
Ryder Anderson on focusing on defensive end —
“I don’t really have a problem, necessarily, moving across the defensive line. It’s just being in the scheme that fits me, uses me, and gives me a little bit more freedom to be a ballplayer. That’s what I have here in this defense. I play on the edge. I’ll get inside and do some things, rush inside a little bit or play the run inside. That’s all stuff I like to do. I like to show versatility. It’s something that throughout the course of a game I excel at.”
Sio Nofoagatoto’a on increasing the production in 2021 —
“Looking at last year, we felt like we made a lot of plays, more plays than the year before. Just each year we want to emphasize our play as a defensive line so that we can help our guys in the back end, especially coming into this year with adding new guys to the line and being able to have new fronts.”
Indiana tinkered with the bull position in 2020 and appears ready to feature that role this year. In essence the bull is like an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, so when a bull is on the field IU will have a stand-up defensive end on one side and a down lineman on the other. We’ll talk more about the bull when we feature the linebackers. The point of bringing it up here is to highlight the fact that IU will be more versatile in 2021 with its front four, with packages both with and without the bull.
With Elliott, Nofoagatoto’a, Kramer and Person on the interior, IU likes what it has but more depth is needed. Anderson, Handy and Head give the Hoosiers a lot of experience and talent at end. If the core group stays healthy the defensive line could be pretty good, but things could get interesting the further into the depth chart they go.
MORE POSITION PREVIEWS
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