2016 Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)

The Indiana Hoosier defensive line will look immensely different in 2016 than it did at the end of 2015. Gone are the likes of Nick Mangieri, Darius Latham, Adarius Rayner, and Zack Shaw. Those four players combined to play in 50 games and make 153 tackles, including 17.5 sacks and 36 tackles for loss. Their production will be missed upfront and the Hoosiers will look for answers from some old friends and new faces. 
Indiana also sports a new(ish) defensive line coach in Mark Hagen, who replaces Larry McDaniel. The Hoosiers also add a new defensive coordinator, Tom Allen, who will try to implement a new defensive scheme— his 4-2-5 defense. This means the emergence of the new “Bull” position, which will be like a Bandit, but more of a true defensive end.
While the issue that stood out the most with the Hoosiers in 2015 was on the back end of the defense, the defensive line has to create some havoc in the offensive backfield. A good pass rush will help the still young secondary out by forcing throws a little quicker. 
Returnees Who Need To Step Up (Ralph Green, Nate Hoff, Jacob Robinson, Robert McCray, and Patrick Dougherty)

Ralph Green

The name along the defensive line that Hoosier fans are probably most familiar with is Ralph Green III. Green had a monster freshman season in 2013 earning Freshman All-Big Ten and All-America honors after posting 25 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.  He followed that up with a solid, but not spectacular, sophomore season with 19 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Last season Green was suspended for the season opener after some off-the-field issues. He appeared in 12 games and saw his total tackles decrease to 17 with just 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
If the Hoosier defense is going to improve upon their performance this year, it is going to start up front with Green (a pass rush will help the secondary). As a senior, Green will have to become a leader up front and live up to the excitement he generated with his freshman year performance. At 6-foot-5 and 315-pounds Green will most likely be one of the starting defensive tackle spots along the line. 

Nate Hoff

Hoff is another lineman who had a very impressive start to his Hoosier career. Hoff came to IU in 2013 from Naval Academy Prep. He redshirted his first season while earning Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. He carried that success over to the game field during his redshirt freshman season in 2014. As with Green, Hoff earned All-Big Ten and All-America freshman honors for his effort. The 6-2, 300-pounder racked up 30 total tackles, including a whopping 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. 
Last season Hoff’s performance was extremely disappointing as he totaled only four tackles (no sacks or TFLs) in 13 games. He will have to re-prove himself to the coaching staff and stake claim to a spot. If not, one of the freshman or a player changing position could end up taking snaps away from Hoff.

Jacob Robinson

Robinson had an outstanding high school career at Westfield H.S. where he earned Indiana Football Coaches Association (IFCA) Top 50 selection in 2013 and 2014, IFCA and Indiana Associated Press Class 6-A All-State as a junior and senior, was a member of the 2013 and 2014 Indianapolis Star Super Team, and a three-time all-county and two-time all-conference honoree. He also participated in the International Bowl for Team USA. 

The six-foot-four freshman saw action in all 13 games last season at defensive end as he recorded five tackles and one TFL. He started to come on late in the season as most of his production came in the Hoosiers’ wins over Maryland and Purdue. 

Robinson should have the inside track for one of the starting end positions for 2016, as he has 13 games of experience. He still needs to fill into his frame, but with new strength coach Keith Caton running the conditioning program that should not be a problem. 

Robert McCray

McCray is entering his junior season at IU after coming to Bloomington by way of Rockdale County H.S. in Georgia. The six-foot-two 280-pound defensive tackle has played in 21 career games. He made his collegiate debut as a true freshman in 2014 when Indiana knocked off a ranked Missouri team.

Last season, McCray saw action in the final 11 games and was productive when he was on the field posting 17 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, and 1.5 sacks. McCray is primed to have a big year at the second defensive tackle position along side Ralph Green. However, at just 280 pounds, he is slightly undersized to play in the middle of a defense in the Big Ten.

Patrick Dougherty

Dougherty will be a redshirt sophomore in 2016 and has just played in five games and had just one tackle, but should be able to battle for some time on the second unit and special teams. 

New Faces (Mike Barwick Jr., Derrian Meminger, Brandon Wilson, Joe Belden)

Mike Barwick Jr.

A highly decorated recruit out of Cincinnati’s Summit Country Day, 2012 and 2013 District V and Cincinnati Inquirer Player of the Year, Barwick Jr. has yet to play a game for the Cream and Crimson. He redshirted his first year on campus in 2014 and was mostly used on scout team in 2015, where he won Scout Team Player of the Week twice. At 6-foot 290-pounds, Barwick will most likely see time at defensive tackle and battle to get into the rotation, especially if Hoff and Green don’t produce consistently.

Joe Belden

Belden made his way to Bloomington as a three-star recruit and the 21st ranked player in Indiana. As a senior at Avon, Belden racked up 62 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, six QB hurries and three pass breakups. Belden was one of four players from the state of Indiana in the Hoosiers’ 2015 class, along with Brandon Knight (Noblesville), Isaac James (Carmel), and Jacob Robinson (Westfield). 

He redshirted last year to bulk up for a potential move to the interior line, but at 6-foot-2 250 pounds he may be more for the defensive end position (weight listed on IUHoosiers.com). Either way, Belden will be competing for major playing time, whether that is at defensive tackle or as a rush end.

Brandon Wilson

Wilson was listed as a Bandit last season under Brian Knorr’s defense, but will most likely be switching positions to the “Bull” position along the defensive line. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds, Wilson should make the transition to defensive end, at least size-wise, pretty easily. He redshirted the 2015 season and claimed two Scout Team Player of the Week Honors (FIU and Penn State). 

During his senior year of high school, in Winter Garden, Florida, Wilson earned first team all-county and all-district honors as he led West Orange H.S. to an 11-1 record. He recorded 81 tackles, 10 of them coming for a loss, seven sacks, and five passes broken up. 

Derrian Meminger

The redshirt sophomore from Sparta, Georgia will look to get on to the field for the first time in 2016 and that starts with proving himself in spring practice. Meminger, from Hancock Central H.S., earned all-region accolades during his senior season.
After redshirting his freshman season, Meminger made a splash on the scout team as he won Scout Team Player of the Week twice (Penn State and Purdue).

At 6-foot-4 265 pounds, the big defensive lineman will have lots of competition in front of him, but that talent has to produce. If they do not and Meminger has a great spring, the door will be wide open for him to snatch up playing time.

Positional Switches (Ja’merez Bowen, Greg Gooch Nile Sykes) 

Ja’merez Bowen

Bowen was a very late and very underrated addition to the Hoosiers prior to the start of fall camp last August when he transferred from Cincinnati after redshirting his freshman season for the Bearcats. He had to sit out the 2015 season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules. 

Bowen is an interesting player for the Hoosiers. He was brought in to play along the offensive line, but will probably switch to the defensive side of the ball due to need and the talented depth of the O-line. He played both ways in high school and had a nice senior season posting 24 tackles. 

Greg Gooch

Greg Gooch is a talented player that will be transitioning from the Bandit position to the Bull. Gooch was a top-30 inside backer prospect according to Rivals.com but has the size at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds to transition into an edge rusher. Gooch has played in 24 of 25 games over his two years at IU and has recorded 23 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, a sack, and an interception. 

Nile Sykes

A one-time Notre Dame commit, Sykes has big expectations as he gains more footing in the Hoosier program. Sykes was a stand out in high school at Montini Catholic in Oak Park, Illinois where he was named first team all-state selection and earned a spot on the U.S. Under-19 National Team in 2013.

He is still young, only a redshirt sophomore in the fall, and was behind some talent on the depth chart. Like Gooch, Sykes will be in a battle for the Bull position after playing the Bandit last season. He appeared in 11 games last season for IU, mostly on special teams, and recorded five tackles.

There are a lot of potential answers for the defensive line unit that has plenty of question marks. It is up to new defensive coordinator Tom Allen and line coach Mark Hagen to find out which pieces fit the puzzle correctly. The talent could be there, and guys will get their shot. These are the battles that Hoosier fans will have fun following this spring.