Happy Monday! Welcome back to the 2013 Preview Series where we will take a look at the top 5 Hoosier defenders. The defense seems to be the key to success for the Indiana football team for the last 15 years and each year the defense seemingly fails to step up and be at the very least mediocre. 2013 is going to be no different. In order for this Hoosier team to live up to its potential the defensive unit must show some improvement upon a dismal 2012 campaign where Indiana gave up 35.2 points per game. With the recent news of an injury to starting linebacker Chase Hoobler and the dismissal of Antonio Marshall, a corner who made some plays late in the season in 2012, in addition to the graduation of their two best defensive players, the job becomes that much harder. Despite all of this the Hoosiers do have some talent returning on the defensive side of the ball, here are the top 5 defensive players for your 2013 Indiana Hoosier football team.
1. Greg Heban, Senior, Safety- The former IU baseball player turned safety is the heart and soul of the Hoosier defense. Heban led the Hoosier defense in tackles with 91 in 2013 in addition to picking off three passes. While it is not ideal to have a safety leading the team in tackles Heban, who does not have ideal speed or size at the safety position, plays with a chip on his shoulder every down. As a senior, in a secondary that needs as many play makers as they can get, his role is going to be even bigger as a leader on and off the field, especially with the infusion of young talent in the defensive secondary. Heban does not need to lead the team in tackles in 2013, if he does it could be a sign of struggle for the Hoosier “D”, but he needs to be an impact player in the passing game.
2. David Cooper, Junior, Linebacker- Every linebacker on the Indiana team has become much more vital due to the injury to Chase Hoobler. Cooper, a junior, is primed to step into a much bigger role after his first season in Bloomington after finishing second on the team in tackles with 86 including three sacks. The linebacker can be a difference maker in both the run and passing game. With another off-season under his belt Cooper should be bigger and stronger than 2012 and should break the 100-tackle mark. It will be important for him to plug the gaps and keep the offense from reaching the secondary less frequently than last season. Look for Cooper to be the leader of this rather thin linebacking corps.
3. Ryan Phillis, Redshirt Junior, Defensive End- The Hoosiers lost their two best players on defense to graduation after the 2012 season, both of whom played on the defensive line. As the new elder statesman of this unit it is up to Phillis to try and fill the production lost from Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. As a sophomore Phillis had a very solid year at the end position, recording 34 total tackles and three sacks while playing in all 12 contests. Any pressure that the defensive line will be a major contribution to this team who lacks depth in the back seven, so look for Phillis to be the new playmaker on the defensive line in 2013.
4. Kenny Mullen, Junior, Cornerback- The cornerback position may be the most important spot on the Hoosiers defense. In 2012 Indiana only forced seven interceptions in 12 games. Kenny Mullen gives the Hoosiers some veteran leadership and athleticism at the position. In 2012 Mullen accounted for 33 tackles and four pass break-ups. With the loss of potential starting cornerback Antonio Marshall, the responsibility falls onto Mullen’s shoulders to team up with fellow corner Brian Williams to make this unit a strength rather than the weak link.
5. Steven Funderburk, Junior, Linebacker- The JUCO transfer is going to be thrust right into the thick of things come the fall. With Chase Hoobler sidelined indefinitely with a stress fracture in his ankle Funderburk should slide into the outside linebacker spot. The first year Hoosier played his 2012 season at Iowa Western Community College, where he 49 tackles and eight for a loss of yards. Funderburk bring experience, talent, and adds depth to a unit that sorely needed all three. While the Hoobler injury could be devastating for the Hoosiers, this JUCO transfer should step in nicely and make a difference right away.
The Hoosiers defense does not need to be great in 2013, they just need to be good enough. The defense is going to be the reason why this team reaches a bowl game or becomes just another talented offensive squad submarined by poor play on the other side of the ball. There is enough talent there, however staying healthy is a must as the depth is not where it should be yet. If the Hoosiers can be decent than this season has a chance to be special.