Saturday, March 20, 2010

Is Rib-Rocking Defense Coming To IU?

Are you like me? Are you contemplating Tuesday’s start of spring football practice through the frenzy of March madness -- did Kansas REALLY lose to Northern Iowa; how in the world did Villanova not beat St. Mary’s; wasn’t the Pac-10 supposed to stink -- and realize that the quickest way for Indiana to get back to bowl status -- and stay there -- is through rib-rocking defense.

Yes, that’s the same unit that has tortured the Hoosiers for the last 17 years or so, not that we’re counting.

Now they return just four starters from a unit that ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 91st nationally in points allowed. Heading for a shot at the NFL are defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, who combined for 9.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss last year. Holes are at linebacker and the secondary. It’s enough to make you wonder if the Hoosiers will ever get back to the level of Bill Mallory’s glory years.

Coach Bill Lynch isn’t wondering because he’s doing something about it. He’s ratcheted up the off-season practice competitiveness, changed a few positions (receivers Mitchell Evans and Matt Ernest will move to the secondary) and developed enough young talent to offer hope that better days are coming.

“I’m excited about the defense,” Lynch said. “Everybody says we lost all those guys. We lost them because they had played a lot. They had played a long time when they were young and we didn’t have the depth so they had to play. We have more depth and more competition now.”

That’s especially true in the secondary, where about 15 players -- including junior college transfers Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles -- will vie for playing time.

“We have some pretty good players,” Lynch said, “but they haven’t played much. Now it’s their turn.”

Their turn starts Tuesday. We’ll see what they do with it.

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