Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Our Top 5 Series continues on the defensive side of the ball as we take a look at the top five defensive line units that play Indiana in 2015. The Big Ten has some nasty units on the defensive front and any coach would be giddy to have any of our top five. The much-talked about Hoosier offensive line will have their work cut out for them as they get into the meat of the 2015 season.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Mark Dantonio's defensive line is stacked with talent. Headlining the group is senior defensive end Shalique Calhoun who had 39 tackles, eight sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2014. The other end position will be manned by fellow senior Lawrence Thomas who made 30 stops along with three sacks and 1.5 TFL's last season. If Thomas and Calhoun play like they can these defensive ends will be a nightmare for any offense they play.
The Spartans not only are loaded on the edge, but can plug up the middle as well as anyone with a pair of 6-foot-6 tackles in freshman All-American Malik McDowell who had 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks and senior Joel Heath who started 12 games in 2014 and made 29 stops including 2.5 sacks and 2.5 TFLs.
The Spartans will have the depth to keep guys fresh as well with highly regarded recruits Craig Evans and Enoch Smith ready to fill in behind the second teamers.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Here is a shocker. The Buckeyes are on another one of our Top-5 lists. There is a reason that Ohio State will start the year ranked No. 1 in the nation. This unit could easily have been number one as well, as they are stacked across the defensive front.
The leading man is none other than defensive end Joey Bosa (he is suspended for Week 1 at Virginia Tech). Bosa racked up a whopping 53 tackles and celebrated 13.5 sacks with his custom shrug. He is a beast on the edge for the Buckeyes and will be in play for all the major defensive awards at year's end. Penciled in opposite of Bosa is sophomore Tyquan Lewis, who played in 13 games as a freshman and had nine tackles and two TFLs.
The defensive tackle position is not too shabby either with 6-foot-4 290 lb. Adolphus Washington eating up blockers on his way to 48 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year in route to the National Title. The second defensive tackle spot is claimed by senior Tommy Schutt who added a sack and 10 tackles in 2014.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State is usually know best for their linebackers, but this season the weight of the defense is going to fall on the shoulders of the defensive line, especially defensive tackle Anthony Zettle. The senior DT recorded 42 tackles, eight sacks, nine tackles for loss, and a whopping three interceptions. Basically, this kid is a monster that will create havoc for whomever goes up against him.
Joining Zettle in the middle of the line for the Lions is nose tackle Austin Johnson, who started all 13 games for Penn State a year ago. At 6-4, 325 lbs., Johnson is a mountain to move up front and accounted for 49 tackles, a sack, five tackles for loss, and three pass break-ups. These two tackles will eat up a lot of blockers and allow the linebackers to run free and make plays.
The edges of the Penn State line are manned by senior Carl Nassib and sophomore Garrett Sickles. Nassib is the longer body at 6-6 and will be a starter for the first time. However, he did play in 12 of the Lions' 13 games in 2014 and put up just seven tackles, one sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Sickles, on the other hand, is about two inches shorter and about eight pounds lighter than Nassib. Sickles played in all 13 of Penn State's games last season and produced similar numbers to Nassib. 11 tackles, two sacks, and a tackle for loss. If there is any weakness along the front four, it is with youth and experience.
4. Michigan Wolverines
A season ago the Michigan defense shut down All-American Tevin Coleman. This season the d-line should be just as nasty, even if they lose a player like Jake Ryan. The Wolverines will be led by 6-4 300-pound nose tackle Chris Wormley. As a sophomore Wormley had 21 tackles, three sacks, and two tackles for loss. Every great 3-4 defensive line needs a big body in the middle to draw double teams and that is exactly what Chris Wormley does.
The other tackle position will be occupied by 6-4 325-pound sophomore Bryan Mone, who played in 12 games (one start) as a true freshman in 2014 when he made nine tackles.
Playing the defensive end position in Michigan's 3-4 defense will be senior Mario Ojemudia, who had 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four tackles for a loss and a pass break-up. At 6-3 and 252 pounds Ojemudia will have great length to be a threat off the edge in the pass rush.
While this edition of the Michigan defensive line will be replacing a lot of senior production, the talent is there and the new blood of the Harbaugh regime should breathe more life and energy into this defense
5. Iowa Hawkeyes
In 2015 there might not be much to write home about with the Iowa Hawkeyes, but their defensive line should be one of the bright spots for the fans in Iowa CIty. The unit is headlined by All-Big Ten defensive end Drew Ott. Ott started all 13 games for the Black and Yellow last season and put up impressive numbers. He had 57 tackles, eight sacks, four tackles for loss, to go along with an interception.
At the other defensive end position will be fellow senior Nate Meier, who equaled Ott's tackle output with 57. He also added two sacks, four tackles for loss, and four QB hurries. With Meier and Ott booking ending the line, it should give the Hawkeyes a formidable pass rush this season.
Plugging up the middle of Iowa's defensive line will be sophomore Nathan Bazata and junior Jaleel Johnson. Bazata is the most inexperienced along the line playing in just nine games as a true freshman, making only four tackles. Johnson on the other hand has played in 19 games in his Hawkeye career and made 11 tackles and one sack in 2014.
Iowa usually has a solid defense and the 2015 version of their defensive line could be very, very good, but that may be it for the Hawkeyes this season.