Sunday, June 13, 2010

IU Football Gets Defensive

It’s mid-June and Indiana is about halfway done with its football recruiting class of 2011. The Hoosiers have 11 oral commitments, although it’s uncertain how firm Ohio linebacker Max Pirman is given his recent visit to Notre Dame.

Hey, at least the Irish want guys committed to IU, and that’s a sign the Hoosiers’ recruiting is picking up.

In fact, it has picked up for the last couple of years, which is a topic we’ve already discussed. For now, let’s analyze where the Hoosiers are in their football recruiting.

Let’s start with the latest commitment, which is which is defensive tackle Donte Phillips. He was IU’s third commitment of the week and he has the potential to be a college defensive end. He’s listed at 6-2 and 255 at Homestead High School in Wisconsin. He’s a strong run stopper who is quick enough to get to the quarterback.

At every level of football a guy who can sack quarterbacks is unbelievably valuable. That’s why they are among the highest paid players in the NFL.

Anyway, seven of IU’s commitments are defensive players, including four linebackers. This isn’t an accident. Defense is the No. 1 reason why the Hoosiers have just one winning season since the early 1990s. They have consistently ranked among the Big Ten’s worst during that period. They couldn’t win even when Antwaan Randle El was terrorizing the league at quarterback because the defense couldn’t stop anybody.

Coach Bill Lynch and his staff understand that. Shaky defense was the biggest contributor to IU’s inability to close out opponents last season. It easily could have been 8-4 instead of 4-8 if it had controlled the fourth quarter. Coaches need talent and depth. They’re gathering the former, developing the later.

Zack Shaw is rated No. 11 nationally at his inside linebacker position, the best of the commitments. While he likely isn’t the second coming of Ray Lewis, he doesn’t have to be. He’s 6-3 and 218 pounds and he’ll probably be 230-pounds-plus by the time he’s a college veteran.

Two of the commitments are offensive linemen and both Ralston Evans and Kirk Harris have the rangy size coaches want. Evans is 6-4 and 275. Harris is 6-5 and 285. They could easily bulk up past 300 pounds in college.

The philosophy started under former coach Terry Hoeppner. Tall, athletic offensive linemen fit the spread offense he ran and while Indiana has switched to more of a power game with its pistol attack, coaches still want to get the ball into the hands of one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps, which means they still want to spread the defense as well as pound it.

The Hoosiers also have lined up a tight end in Jake Reed, and while they haven’t featured the tight end as a receiver much recently, that could change. Reed, who is ranked 23rd nationally at his position, could help with that.

They even have a dual threat quarterback in Tre Roberson from Indianapolis. While he isn’t the biggest guy in the world (6-1, 170 pounds), he’s fast and athletic and if quarterback doesn’t work out in college, he likely would make a good receiver.

Recruiting is designed to address needs, and these 11 players do that. Lynch basically had last year’s class locked in by the start of the football season. With June the month for football camps -- a big tool for coaches to get players on campus, evaluate them and offer scholarships to those who warrant them –- look for this year’s commitment numbers to increase swiftly. And if the talent level rises with it, future prospects are awfully good.

If not, well, we’ve all been there before.

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