Spring Preview: Defensive Line

 The Hoosiers hope the return of multiple contributors along the Defensive Line will result in a more stout run defense and a stronger pass rush in 2015. Photo Credit - Nick Holmes

The Hoosiers hope the return of multiple contributors along the Defensive Line will result in a more stout run defense and a stronger pass rush in 2015. Photo Credit - Nick Holmes

Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)

In 2014 the Hoosiers made some measurable gains under the guidance of Defensive Coordinator Brian Knorr. For example, the rush defense improved by 55 yards, allowing only 183 yards on the ground per game. This in large part was due to the elevated play of the defensive line. The team got contributions from both upper and underclassmen alike. However, while they were more disruptive defending the run, they failed to generate an adequate pass rush, getting to the quarterback just 23 times, which was tied for 82nd best in the country.

Now as the Hoosiers enter 2015 with their hopes on playing in a bowl game, let's take a look at the players the Hoosiers will be relying upon along the defensive line.

The Departed

2014 StatsGPTklsTFLSacksPBU
Bobby Richardson 12 35 9.5 5.5 1
Christopher Cormier 7 3
Jordan Heiderman 8 1

While the Hoosiers are tasked with replacing three starters in the secondary and two at linebacker, they might find that replacing defensive end Bobby Richardson is the toughest of all. The Tampa, Florida native was the team's most productive pass rusher in 2014, leading the team with 5.5 sacks. His combination of speed and size, 6-foot-3, 283 pounds, has earned him the attention of multiple NFL teams. In fact he was recently named to NFL Media Analyst Charles Davis' All-Underrated Defensive Team. Also, a recent mock draft created by Bleacher Report has Richardson being selected in the fifth round of May's NFL draft. During his four seasons in Bloomington he saw action in 45 games, recording 129 tackles, including 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. He also blocked three kicks, had six pass breakups, forced two fumbles and recovered one. His absence will not only be felt from a statistical standpoint, but also from a leadership role as well, as he was a team captain this past season.

In addition to Richardson, the Hoosiers also see the departure of seniors Christopher Cormier and Jordan Heiderman . The Junior College transfers were both part of the Hoosiers 2013 class, but saw limited action in their two seasons with the team.

Future Outlook

Despite the loss of Richardson, the cupboard is far from bare when it comes to talent and experience, as the Hoosiers return 37 of 48 starts along the defensive line including the Bandit position. The Hoosiers also add four redshirt freshmen to the mix, making this a very competitive spring, as players battle to move up the depth chart.

2014 Starters
Defensive EndNose TackleDefensive TackleBandit
11 - Bobby Richardson 8 - Nate Hoff 9 - Darius Latham12 -Nick Mangieri
1 - Darius Latham 4 - Adarius Rayner 3 - Adarius Rayner

In an effort to get the team's best players on the field together, Coach Wilson made some position changes during the off-season. After starting in all 12 games last season at Bandit, senior-to-be Nick Mangieri is moving to defensive end, a position that he is quite familiar. Prior to moving to the hybrid role in 2014, he spent his first two seasons playing with his hand on the ground. Even during 2014 he still saw some action at defensive end on obvious passing downs when the Hoosier coaching staff was attempting to get more pressure on the quarterback. To prepare for this move, the Illinois native put on ten pounds during the off-season, now listed at 6-foot-5, 270-pounds. During the team's first spring practice Coach Wilson spoke about the position change, "We got some good depth there (speaking of the Bandit position)... and he's kind of a rush, he's gotten a little bigger and stronger, he is a veteran. He does need to continue to gain some...we're going to play a little bit more of a two deep, three deep there and just thought he would help the team more." During his junior season Mangieri recorded 37 tackles, including two sacks and six tackles for loss. He also had one interception and had five pass break ups.

The decision to move Mangieri to defensive end was made easier when taking into consideration how well Zach Shaw played as his back up at Bandit in 2014. In fact, in some ways according to Coach Wilson, the Ohio native out-performed Mangieri,"Zach Shaw played at his back up last year and probably played better than Nick. Not putting Nick down, but Zach played equally as well." The 6-foot-3, 252 pound Shaw saw action in all 12 games for the Hoosiers, recording 24 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He also recovered a fumble and broke up a pass. Now as Shaw enters his second season at the spot, expect further improvement and increased production from the position in 2015.

Nick MangieriAfter spending 2014 standing up in the Bandit position, look for Nick Mangieri to have his hand on the ground in 2015. Photo Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois native Nile Sykes looks to be the most likely candidate to push Shaw for playing time at Bandit this spring, as Coach Wilson specifically mentioned him on Thursday, "...And we think Nile Sykes, young player can come in there to help us..." The former Notre Dame commit spent last season watching from the sidelines, taking a redshirt season in 2014 due to the team's depth at linebacker last fall. Sykes possesses a great deal of athleticism with excellent size (6-foot-2, 242-pounds). In his high school Hudl highlight tape he demonstrates good pass rushing instincts, closing speed, and was solid when dropping back into coverage. It appears that once again Bandit should be a position of strength along the defensive line for the Hoosiers.

Through his first two seasons with the Hoosiers, Indianapolis native Darius Latham has been a consistent force in the trenches, seeing action in all 24 games during his career. Last season he recorded 26 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. He also recovered one fumble and had three pass breakups. His combination of size 6-foot-5, 305 pounds and athleticism has made him a valuable, versatile asset that can be lined up anywhere along the line. He will likely start at defensive tackle next season, but could see action at defensive end on certain downs and distances. In addition to elevating his play in 2015, look for Latham to become more of a vocal leader as he is now one of the upperclassmen on the defense.

One pleasant and somewhat unexpected surprise, at least to fans, was the play of Nate Hoff in 2014. The native of Ohio was mostly unheralded coming out of high school and after a season at the Naval Academy Preparatory School was a late add to the Hoosiers 2013 recruiting class. After redshirting his first year in Bloomington, Hoff came onto the scene in a big way, starting eight times and playing in all 12 games at nose tackle. He tallied 29 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, which was good for second best on the team. His efforts did not go unnoticed, as he was on honorable mention on both the CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-American team and BTN.com All-Big Ten Freshman team. Hoff will likely be the starter at nose tackle in 2015, however, will have both veterans and underclassmen breathing down his neck for playing time.

Nate HoffAfter an outstanding freshman campaign in 2014, Nose Tackle Nate Hoff looks to have an even greater impact on the defensive line in 2015. Photo Credit - Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio native Ralph Green III is another option the Hoosiers could employ at nose tackle in 2015. After a strong freshman outing where he started in 8 games and was a CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-America honorable mention, he regressed statistically in 2014 due to the emergence of Hoff and possibly because of the team's move to the 3-4 scheme. After posting 25 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for a loss and one sack in 12 games in 2013, he recorded 19 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack in 11 games 2014. Nonetheless, look for Green to bounce back in 2015, providing experienced depth at nose tackle and combining with Hoff to make a potent one-two punch at the position.

Junior-to-be Shawn Heffern saw his playing time increase in 2014, seeing action in all 12 games. The 6-foot-6, 275 pound Heffern recorded 18 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss while breaking up two passes. As the Hoosiers rotate multiple players upfront, look for the Carmel, Indiana native to provide experienced depth at both defensive end and tackle for the Hoosiers in 2015.

Florida native Adarius Rayner is returning for his fifth season with the Hoosiers after playing in all 12 games in 2014, tallying 12 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Rayner is another experienced option that the Hoosiers can turn to provide quality depth at both nose and defensive tackle this fall.

After spending his inaugural season with the Hoosiers at Bandit, Coach Wilson and the defensive staff decided that Georgia native Robert McCray III would be better suited to play with his hand in the dirt at defensive end. Having seen some action at defensive end in high school, the transition should not be overly difficult for him. After playing in the team's final 10 games, the 6-foot-2, 273-pound sophomore brings valuable playing experience to the field.

A member of Indiana's 2013 recruiting with offers from Boston College and Cincinnati, among others, Ohio native Patrick Dougherty redshirted his first year in Bloomington. During his redshirt freshman season in 2014 he did not see any playing time for the Hoosiers, so he is an unknown at this point. To crack the depth chart next fall, the 6-foot-5, 285-pound sophomore-to-be will need to take advantage of this spring auditioning period.

The Hoosiers add three other members from the 2014 class to the mix this spring, one of which is Sparta, Georgia native, Derrian Meminger. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound redshirt freshman had offers from Louisville and Cincinnati out of high school, before deciding to join Indiana on signing day 2014. Due to an already crowded depth chart, Meminger will likely be allowed time to develop further before he is thrust into a major role on the team.

Cincinnati native Michael Barwick Jr. is another talented, yet inexperienced option that could see some playing time along the defensive line next fall. A three-star prospect out of high school, the 6-foot, 290-pound Barwick could see action at both nose and defensive tackle when he gets an opportunity to contribute. During his junior and senior seasons at Summit Country Day High School he was named to Ohio's Division VI All-State Team.

Also out of Cincinnati, Nick Carovillano looks to have a future as a defensive end in the Hoosiers 3-4 scheme due to his size, 6-foot-4 and 241-pounds. During his senior season at Ohio's St. Xavier high school, he led the incredibly competitive Great Catholic League in sacks with nine. He, much like Meminger and Barwick, faces an uphill battle to see playing time in the fall. However, taking advantage of the next few weeks can go a long way in cementing his role on the team for the upcoming season.

2014 StatsPos.Ht.Wt.ClassTklsTFLSackFFFRPBUInt
Nate Hoff NT 6-2 300 RS SO 29 8.5 3.5
Darius Latham DT 6-5 305 JR 26 5.5 1.5 1 3
Nick Mangieri DE 6-5 270 SR 26 6 3 1 5 1
Zack Shaw BAN 6-3 252 RS SR 24 4.5 1.5 1 1
Ralph Green III NT 6-5 315 RS JR 19 4.5 1 1
Shawn Heffern DE 6-6 275 RS JR 18 1.5 2
Adarius Rayner DT 6-2 300 RS SR 12 2.5 1
Robert McCray III DE 6-2 273 SO 1
Patrick Dougherty DT 6-5 285 RS SO Did not play in 2014
Nile Sykes BAN 6-2 242 RS FR Redshirt in 2014
Derrian Meminger DT 6-4 265 RS FR Redshirt in 2014
Nick Carovillano DE 6-4 241 RS FR Redshirt in 2014
Michael Barwick Jr. NT 6-0 290 RS FR Redshirt in 2014

The Hoosiers experienced improvement on defense after the switch to Coach Knorr's 3-4 scheme in 2014. Now as the Hoosiers enter their second spring in the alignment expect to see further improvement as the players grow more comfortable in their roles. The number one thing to look for is if the defense can get pressure on the quarterback. If the defensive line is able to generate a pass rush in spring practice, it should bold well for next season, as the Hoosiers offensive line is likely one of the top five in the Big Ten. Another plus to a productive pass rush, is that it will take some pressure of a talented, yet young secondary.

With the return of multiple starters, position changes, and addition of players from the 2014 class, the defensive line should an area of strength for the Hoosiers in 2015.

Questions to Consider

How will Mangieri adapt to being back at defensive end?

Can the defense get pressure on the quarterback without bringing extra men on a blitz?

With the graduation of Bobby Richardson, who will serve as the leader on the defensive line?

How will the 2014 guys factor into the rotation this season?