Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
One of the larger question marks surrounding the Indiana football program as we look towards the 2016 season is how the defense will look under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen. Allen’s defensive formation, a 4-2-5, features a pair of new positions that IU fans haven’t seen in Bloomington before. The “Husky” serves as the fifth member of the secondary. The “Bull” position is mainly the fourth defensive lineman. The primary focus of the Bull is to generate pressure on the quarterback. Pass rush is something that has been lacking within the IU defense the past couple of seasons and it stands out as a critical part to finding success in 2016. The top candidates for the new position are former Bandit linebackers Nile Sykes and Greg Gooch. The transition is not an easy one but Tom Allen feels the two are doing quite well.
“I’ll tell you, they’ve bought in. That was one of the things I think I said in the beginning, you know the Husky position, the Bull position for us was kind of taking guys and moving them to a spot they’ve never played before,” Allen told Hoosier Huddle’s Sammy Jacobs after practice earlier this week. “You’ve got to sell them on it, you sell them on it by showing them film of guys in this system that made a lot of plays and convince them that this could be a great opportunity for them. So, Nile (Sykes) has done great, he showed up today sacking the quarterback and Greg (Gooch) the same thing….I think they are progressing well and are making plays.”
For Gooch and Sykes, “a great opportunity” could be exactly what they need to jumpstart their Indiana careers. Gooch, a 6’2” junior from Florida, only had 10.5 tackles in 2015 as he was passed by fellow linebackers Dameon Willis and Clyde Newton. Gooch is larger than the other linebackers and he never quite fit in Brian Knorr’s 3-4 scheme. Sykes, a 6’2” sophomore from Illinois, is of similar stature to Gooch (both weigh in at more than 250 pounds) and played in eleven games as a freshman, mostly on special teams. He had five tackles on the season and I’m not sure where he would have fit in if the Hoosiers stayed in a 3-4. However, the Bull position gives these two bigger bodies a chance to use their athleticism to get into the opposition’s backfield. Greg Gooch hasn’t been bothered by the transition.
“Really, it is just a different name for the position. I think it’s the same concept, you have similar principles at d-line and Bandit. D-line you have your hand down, you want to be a more physical player. On the d-line you want to have more of a run presence and Bandit you are usually going off the strength of the defense and you can either be dropping on one play or you can be peeling on another play, but I feel like it is the same position.”
Of course, the pass rush won’t be generated from the Bull position alone. It will need to be a collective effort from a number of guys in order to replace and exceed the pressure applied by the departed Nick Mangieri. Tom Allen mentioned a number of factors that will go into the all-important pass rush.
“We mentioned a couple guys in Sykes and Gooch, you know even a guy like Ralph (Green), he’s a big ol’ guy you know, but those inside guys is where you can get some good matchups. You don’t view some of those guys as pass rush guys, but the bottom line is that even a guy like Jacob (Robinson), is a big body that can play in different spots and he can be a good matchup on a three technique and rushing the passer and we’ll situation with those guys and those positions,” Allen said.
New defensive line coach Mark Hagen talked with Hoosier Huddle about how the Hoosiers are capable of getting after the quarterback but they’ll likely need to get creative to do so.
“I am not sure if we have a ton of guys that can just create their own pass rush up front. We are going to have to get creative, we are going to have to work together in terms of twists and rush games up front. We have got a couple guys that can create their own pass rush, but they have got to know when those situations are going to arise, they are going to have to have a plan in place in order to set that offensive lineman up and beat him. The thing I am looking forward to is just being able to go out and get the coaches off the field and just be able to play a game.”
This spring practice period and the remainder of the offseason will be crucial to develop the understanding that will be needed for guys like Greg Gooch and Nile Sykes and the rest of this defensive front as IU looks to generate an increased pass rush. As Mark Hagen said, they’ll need to work together and get creative to make it happen but if they can figure out how to generate consistent pressure, it will do wonders for the Hoosiers defense in 2016.