Media day at the Indiana University Memorial Stadium signaled the beginning of a season filled with the promise of December football being the payoff from a long offseason’s worth of work. Everyone knows about the Hoosier offense and how prolific they were at running the ball last season. They are expected to replicate that with the help of their veteran offensive line and a transfer running back from UAB named Jordan Howard, who rushed for 1,587 yards last season.
“From an o-line perspective, we can open holes for anybody,” senior left tackle Jason Spriggs said.
Senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld is also expected to be healthy and make their offense balanced and lethal but what might surprise fans about the Hoosiers this season is how improved their defense is going to lookin their second year under defensive coordinator Brian Knorr’s system.
“We’re seeing players being more comfortable with the (3-4) system,” Knorr said. “As coaches, we’ve made changes as far as moving guys to other positions. We’re moving our guys and giving them their best strengths.”
Redshirt senior linebacker Zack Shaw said the mindset of the defense has changed dramatically since their season-ending victory over rival Purdue last year. According to him, all the veterans have a much better understanding of Knorr’s defensive system.
“I think Zack Shaw is going to be a very dynamic edge player,” Knorr said.
Knorr believes the strength of the defense is “up front”.
“In the Big Ten, it all starts up front,” Knorr said.
Among the adjustments is senior pass rusher Nick Mangireri making the move from outside linebacker to defensive end, where he started as a freshman.
“It’s good to be back with the D-line,” Mangieri said.
Another defensive player making adjustments for this season is defensive tackle Darius Latham. He is moving from defensive end to tackle to accommodate Mangireri’s move.
“The story is, hands down (Darius Latham) as the best I’ve seen him in work ethic, body ethics, buy in, giving it all he’s got, doing this daily, doing a lot of great things players do in preps,” Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said. “I think he’ll have a phenomenal year.”
Junior linebacker T.J. Simmons seconds that and believes Latham is the player on defense that has improved the most over the offseason.
“I have played with him for two years and I have never seen him make plays like did in the spring game,” Simmons said.
There is even a freshman who is getting a look on the other side of the ball. Devonte Williams was recruited as a running back but has been getting some looks at cornerback recently in practice.
“That running back you’ve been talking about being an impact guy, well he is, but he might be on the other side,” Wilson said. “We’re kind of liking that. That started a couple weeks ago with our development work and all that.”
If that works out well, he’ll likely line up with Rashard Fant, who Knorr has some high praise directed towards him.
“Rashard has been as good of a cover kid than we had,” Knorr said. “Athletically, this has been as good of a group as I ever had.”
While there are a lot of veterans in the Indiana defensive unit, there is one underclassman that believes with full confidence that he is ready to take the next step and join them among the team’s elites. Safety Chase Dutra may be a redshirt sophomore, but he started in all 12 games and is a major part of Knorr’s defense.
“(Chase Dutra) came to me earlier in the summer, said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this.’ Not that he’s going to be Mr. Rah Rah, Mr. Big Speech Guy all the time, but I don’t think he hides,” Wilson said. “I don’t think he’s seeing that per se, wants to be anointed: ‘I’m your leader.’ But I don’t think he’s scared or afraid or hides from it. I think he embraces it.”
Overall, this team’s experience in the defensive front seven makes them something to look out for this season. Indiana will have to demonstrate a drastic amount of improvement in time for their big game against National Champion Ohio State to start the conference slate.