Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
We’ve had a lot of great Signing Day coverage here at the Hoosier Huddle. You can find player profiles on each of the new Hoosiers and a look at how the rest of the B1G did with their 2015 recruiting classes. Now that the letters are all in and we’ve heard the coaches talk about where each player is likely to being their careers, let’s take a look at how both sides of the ball could be impacted this season (and beyond) by this recruiting class. We’ve looked at the offense, now let’s look at the defense.
Secondary – Indiana has struggled on defense. That’s not news to anyone. However, there were signs of life in defensive coordinator Brian Knorr’s first season. There are some really good pieces in the secondary (Antonio Allen, Chase Dutra, Rashard Fant, Donovan Clark) but there are also some significant question marks. IU needs to replace both starting cornerbacks (Tim Bennett graduated and Michael Hunter Jr. left the program and subsequently transferred to Oklahoma State) and they will miss the leadership and experience of Mark Murphy. It’s not 100% clear where the defensive recruits will end up playing (DB or safety) in the secondary but IU did add some size and athleticism and some guys that will compete for playing time right away.
The two safeties in the class are Jonathan Crawford and Jameel Cook. Crawford was pursued heavily by several major schools and his physicality and size are major positives for Coach Wilson. “Outstanding safety. Big frame, physical guy at safety.” Cook, a former Maryland commit from Houston, is another physical player. Both will provide immediate depth at safety and I would not be surprised to see Crawford get some significant playing time during his freshman season. IU also brought in two players that they expect to be defensive backs in Tyler Green and Andre Brown. Green was the highest rated recruit in this class. He’s listed as a safety but the Hoosiers will be trying him at corner. He is 6’2” with long arms and if you’ve seen his highlight tape, you know he is a “next level” athlete. If Green takes to the corner position quickly, he has the talent to be an immediate starter for IU. Brown was listed as an athlete but he was recruited as a cornerback. “We told him all along he’d be a corner, he wanted to play corner,” Wilson said. Brown chose Indiana over Duke and Minnesota, has good size at 6’0”/187 and looks like a solid addition to the secondary.
Linebackers – Kevin Wilson and his staff have done a tremendous job of evaluating and bringing in linebacker talent over the past couple of seasons. TJ Simmons, Greg Gooch, Marcus Oliver and (a personal favorite) Tegray Scales are just a few of the young linebackers that are making strides and excelling in Bloomington. Having a lot of young talent means that there’s not a lot of need to recruit a ton of guys to be linebackers and Kevin Wilson confirmed that linebacker was the position they focused on the least in this class. However, the LB spot was completely ignored as IU signed two versatile athletes in Omari Stringer and Reakwon Jones. The IU coaches told Jones, a Florida product, that he reminded them of Tegray Scales (wouldn’t that be great!) and Wilson spoke highly of him on Wednesday. “Very athletic, strong guy. He told us the other day he benched 400 pounds. Very intrigued by Reakwon. Great kid”. (“Just take a guess at how much I can bench press. Come on, what do you think? Take a guess. 315 pounds, maxing out at 500!”…Fred Willard, Best in Show reference, I couldn’t help myself)
Omari Stringer, a Chicago native, chose IU over offers from Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and others. He’s an explosive tackler and a very good athlete that excelled on both sides of the ball in high school. He’s projected as a “Bandit” linebacker (playing on the edge as a rusher or dropping into coverage), a position that IU looks to already have well-filled this season (Nick Mangieri, Clyde Newton and exciting prospects Dameon Willis and Robert McCray all figure to be ahead of him) so Stringer could end up redshirting as a freshman.
Both Stringer and Jones represent a somewhat unique way that IU recruits a lot of their linebackers. They are athletes that often aren’t “true” linebackers. Inge was asked how they determined whether or not to recruit a player who isn’t a linebacker to make the switch to LB in college and had this to say, “Can that player run fast and hit hard?” Sometimes, football is not a complicated game.
Defensive Line – To put it bluntly, IU’s pass rush last season was a disappointment. They didn’t do a good enough of job of pressuring the opposing quarterback or finishing plays with sacks. The Hoosiers were 86th in the country in sacks (only 23 all season). The lack of pressure also hurt the pass defense as IU ended up surrendering 251 passing yards per game (94th in the nation). IU is hoping their returning players plus 3 D-line recruits can do a better job of setting the tone for the defense in 2015 and beyond.
Two in-state prospects, Joe Belden from Avon and Jacob Robinson from Westfield were early commitments to the Crimson Army and they were instrumental in recruiting other players to join the class. “Joe could play starting inside as an athletic kind of nose guy. We’ll see how his body transitions into nose,” Wilson said of Belden. Jacob Robinson and Brandon Wilson both project as rush ends that will either be “standup bandits” or put their hand on the ground and rush. Robinson was extremely productive at Westfield and it’s always important to nab highly-touted in-state recruits. Wilson, one of the higher rated recruited in the class, is from Florida and received interest from schools like Florida and North Carolina. “What Brandon gives us is that pass rush…he’s long, he’s lean, he bends well, all those things you want out of a defensive lineman,” said D-Line coach Larry McDaniel. Wilson is 6’4” and his length could be a real asset for the Hoosiers. I would expect both Wilson and Robinson to have a chance to earn some playing time as situational pass rushers as early as this season.