Written By Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
While the Hoosiers defense continues to be a work in progress, as evidenced by team turning to its third defensive coordinator in four seasons, there have still been plenty of notable players to see action on that side of the ball. Continuing our All-Kevin Wilson team, here’s our look at the top players to see action for Indiana on the defensive side of the ball. Again, this list only includes players that were recruited by Coach Wilson, both scholarship and walk-ons are eligible. Also, no consideration was given to strong versus weak-side, and we utilized a 4-3 alignment.
Bobby Richardson – Defensive Lineman
The Atlanta, Georgia transplant was largely unheralded coming out of Plant High School in Tampa, Florida, with just two Power Five offers, Indiana and Iowa State. One of Kevin Wilson’s first commitments after taking over in late 2010, Bobby Richardson made his way onto the gridiron early and often as a true freshman, moving from defensive tackle to the defensive end position, where he spent most of his career. Over the course of his time in Bloomington, he made getting into the backfield a priority bringing down the quarterback 11 times, recording 22 tackles for loss, breaking up six passes and blocking three kicks. As a senior he was the team’s only captain on defense, which says a lot of about his leadership qualities. He was also received Indiana's Chris Dal Sasso Award for the most outstanding lineman. Going undrafted in 2015, Richardson was picked up by New Orleans. As a rookie he recorded 40 tackles, one interception and a half a sack.
Zach Shaw – Defensive Lineman
Also a member of Coach Wilson’s very first recruiting class, Shaw was one of the program’s highest-rated recruits of all-time, garnering that elusive fourth star coming out of Coshocton High School, where he held the record for most tackles in a career. After a redshirt season, Shaw was moved from linebacker to defensive end, where he quickly made he is presence felt starting in nine games, playing in 12, recording 29 tackles, with two sacks and five tackles for loss while earning a spot on the BTN.com All-Big Ten Freshman team. As a junior he was moved to the team’s hybrid Bandit position, where he backed up Nick Mangieri. As a senior he moved back into the starting lineup where he flourished, recording 53 tackles with 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He started in all 13 games for Indiana in 2015, was named a team captain, earned honorable mention All-Big Ten from the coach and received the Hoosier Iron Award for his outstanding performance in the weight room.
Nick Mangieri – Defensive Lineman
He, along with Shaw, made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks around the conference, recording a team-high 9.5 sacks as a senior, the most since Jammie Kirlew donned the Cream and Crimson. In addition to getting to the quarterback quite frequently, recorded 52 tackles total, 12 tackles for loss which were also a team high, six pass breakups and blocked kicked. For all that hard work he received Honorable mention All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and media. Also a team captain, Mangieri earned the team’s Howard Brown “Dedication to IU Football” Award was named to the Ted Hendricks Award Watch List. The play of both he and Shaw were absolutely critical in getting this team to its first bowl game in eight seasons. However, he did not just ring the bell for the Indiana defense. Prior to the Pinstripe Bowl, he along with Coach Wilson, and fellow Hoosiers Andre Booker and Anthony Corsaro, rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. There’s little doubt that Mangieri would have at the very least been picked up as an undrafted free agent by some NFL team, however he decided to hang up his cleats and focus on his career away from the field.
Darius Latham- Defensive Line
One of the highest profile recruits netted by the Kevin Wilson coaching staff, Darius Latham worked along the interior of the defensive line the last three seasons. While never quite living up to the four-star status, there’s no denying the talent of this homegrown Hoosier. As a freshman the Indianapolis native recorded 22 tackles and two sacks and was an honorable mention on BTN.com’s All-Big Ten Freshman team. After a somewhat down sophomore campaign, Latham posted 33 tackles, team second-best four sacks, 10 tackles for loss, one interception, one pass breakup and two blocked kicks, earning him an All-Big Ten honorable mention from the Coaches. Foregoing his final season with the Hoosiers, Latham went undrafted but was quickly picked up by the Oakland Raiders, where he will have all summer to prove that he belongs in the league. There’s no doubt he possesses the physical attributes to excel at the next level, but bringing a consistent effort will largely determine how successful he will be in the Bay Area.
Marcus Oliver- Linebacker
If there’s one player currently on the Hoosiers roster that epitomizes what new Indiana Defensive Coordinator Tom Allen is looking for on the defensive side of the ball, it’s redshirt junior Marcus Oliver. To say the Hamilton, Ohio native has a nose for the ball would be a gross understatement, as I think an appropriate nickname might be “The Takeaway Titan.” Admittedly, the nickname is a work-in-progress. After a rather impressive freshman season in 2013 (37 tackles, 21 solo, 2.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles) that earned him an honorable mention from BTN.com on their All-Big Ten Freshman team, Oliver saw his sophomore season cut short due to a knee injury. However, when 2015 rolled around there was no signs that the knee was bothering him at all, as he played like a man on fire all season, recording 112 stops, with one sack and 6.5 tackles for loss. Not too mention, he led the team with four forced fumbles, which was ninth best nationally. He had one fumble recovery, two interceptions, and four pass breakups. His play earned him an honorable mention All-Big Ten from the media and was named IU’s Defensive Teammate of the Year. With the defensive line looking to break in at least three new starters up front, look for Oliver to turn his game up another notch this fall.
TJ Simmons- Linebacker
Entering his final season with the Hoosiers, TJ Simmons has been a starter at middle linebacker since first setting foot on campus back in 2013. The Florida native quickly emerged from the pack and solidified his footing as a playmaker on defense in the line-backing corps, earning numerous accolades, including CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-American honorable mention, ESPN.com Big Ten All-Freshman team and BTN.com honorable mention All-Big Ten Freshman team, after starting all twelve games as a true freshman in 2013. He recorded 68 tackles, with one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss that season. He improved on those numbers during his sophomore campaign, posting 72 tackles, adding two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. His junior season was much of the same, adding 73 tackles, including a career-high three sacks and six tackles for loss. While not the flashiest player on defense, Simmons is one of those consistent, blue collar workers in the middle always willing to get his nose dirty against the run. He enters 2016 as the team’s active leader in tackles.
David Cooper- Linebacker
A 36-game starter for the Hoosiers, David Cooper made his way to Bloomington back in 2012 by way of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. As a sophomore he had a team second best 86 tackles, with three sacks, nine tackles for loss, one forced fumble and three pass breakups. As a junior he led the team with 85 tackles, with 2.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. While his production dropped as senior, as the team was shuffling more players out at linebacker, he still recorded sixty tackles and once again started in all 12 games. Again, not a very flashy player for the Indiana defense, but brought it on a consistent basis.
Jonathan Crawford- Safety
The Hoosiers entered the 2015 season with more question marks surrounding their secondary than you could shake a stick at. Luckily for Coach Wilson, Jonathan Crawford was immediately able to step into the defensive backfield and make an impact. As a freshman he had a team-best four interceptions, collected 76 tackles, had one sack, one forced fumble, one blocked field goal and one pass breakup. His stellar season led to him being named to multiple all-Freshman teams including Honorable mention on the Campus Insiders Freshman All-America team and ESPN.com and BTN.com’s All-Freshman team. He was also Big Ten co-Freshman of the Week against Western Kentucky and was named IU’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year. The Hoosiers have brought in quite a few safeties the last couple of recruiting classes and there’s little doubt that the Largo, Florida native is as talented, athletic and skilled (insert any other adjective to describe a primetime player) as any, and he’s only played 13 games at the college level. Now imagine what kind of impact he could have with a full collegiate offseason under his belt? Based on accomplishment and potential, Crawford easily makes the list and could quite possibly be one the program’s all-time greats in the secondary.
Mark Murphy- Safety
A leader on the field and in the classroom, Mark Murphy played in 47 of possible 48 games during his career, starting in 42. Another member of the 2011 recruiting class, Murphy saw action early and often as a true freshman, at both safety and weak side linebacker, collecting 76 tackles with one tackle for loss, a 31-yard interception touchdown return and four pass breakups, earning him a sport one both Yahoo Sports, ESPN.com and BTN.com’s All Freshman teams. In all, Murphy recorded 279 tackles, one sack, seven tackles for loss, four interceptions, two interceptions returns for touchdowns, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and nine pass breakups. He also collected numerous accolades for his keeping studies at the forefront of his priorities. And while no one will accuse Murphy of being particularly flashy, he was a very consistent player in Hoosiers secondary, supporting the Hoosiers run defense when the first two levels were struggling.
Rashard Fant – Cornerback
Arguably the program’s best cover corner since Tracy Porter, Rashard Fant looks to build on a very successful 2015 season. After redshirting in 2013, and seeing action as a key reserve in 2014, the Georgia native was thrust into the spotlight as a sophomore, leading the conference with 22 pass breakups, which were also second-best in all the nation. He also collected 52 tackles, with 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one fumble recovery. His sole interception came at crucial junction in the Pinstripe Bowl, turning the momentum back in the favor of the Hoosiers. And while that game did not turnout the way Indiana fans had hope, the play of Fant gives the team reason for optimism heading into the 2016 season. However, if this program is going to continue its upward trajectory, Fant will need to further elevate his game this fall and start turning some of those PBUs into INTs and really begin living up to that four-star billing.
Tim Bennett – Cornerback
The second junior college transfer on our list, Tim Bennett held down one of the starting corner positions in both the 2013 and ‘14 seasons. When Bennett made his way to Bloomington in 2012 by way of Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa, the Indiana coaching staff tried him out at both safety and nickel back. However, it was not until he made a full-time position change to corner for his junior season did the talented defensive back start making an impact, leading the country with 20 pass breakups in 2013, earning him an All-Big Ten honorable mention from the media as well as receiving the team’s Defensive Teammate of the Year distinction. He also recorded 73 stops tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, while picking off one pass and recovering a fumble. While his senior season was not quite as successful, he still recorded 67 stops and 9 PBUs.
What do you fans think, who do you feel like should be on the list that I left off? Leave your comments below.