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Bandits making plays for the IU defense


Then-sophomore Nick Mangieri attempts to reach the quarterback during IU's game against Penn State on Oct. 5, 2013, at Memorial Stadium. File photo and File photo Buy Photos

They aren’t defensive linemen, but they aren’t quite linebackers either.

They’re pass rushers, but their job routinely requires them to drop back into ?coverage.

Through six games, junior linebackers Nick Mangieri and Zack Shaw have combined for 36 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception.

They’re hybrids, a mix somewhere between defensive ends and linebackers.

And in IU defensive coordinator Brian Knorr’s 3-4 defense, they’re called bandits.

“We pretty much get to do everything on defense,” Mangieri said. “You rush the passer, play the run, get in on the line and drop back into coverage. It’s pretty fun.”

The bandit crosses skills of a typical outside linebacker and defensive end.

Although the bandit has the option of dropping back into coverage, his primary job is to be a pass rusher.

“If I had to explain it to someone, I’d tell them we’re really just like D-lineman, ?except we drop back,” Shaw said. “We just want to catch them off when we drop.”

Neither Shaw nor Mangieri had previous experience playing at the bandit position for this season, but both said their versatility playing multiple positions in high school helped them transition.

Throughout high school, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Shaw was a linebacker. He came to IU as a linebacker but moved to defensive end after his redshirt freshman season.

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Mangieri played on both sides of the ball in high school as a pass rusher on defense and a wide receiver on offense.

He said his experience at wideout has helped him on the times that he is called on to drop back.

“It helped with ball skills,” Mangieri said. “I think it helps a little bit with knowing where the receiver wants to go in zone coverage.”

When a bandit linebacker falls back into coverage, he’s typically playing zone.

Part of pass coverage is the instinct to see plays before they happen, to which both bandits are still adjusting.

The defender must break on the ball before the pass is thrown. If he waits too long, a receiver will beat the bandit and be off to the races.

When Mangieri dropped back into zone coverage during the third quarter against Bowling Green on Sept. 13, he was able to cut off a route and come up with an interception along the sidelines.

Mangieri and Shaw split time learning from Knorr and linebackers Coach William Inge.

When they began learning their roles last fall, they spent most of their time watching film from Knorr’s time at Wake Forest.

Shaw said, at first, the learning curve was steep as he readjusted to dropping back in coverage.

One of the most radical changes to him was switching from a three-point stance to a two-point standing position.

“You get more power coming out of the three-point, so you’ve got to be ready when a block’s coming at you,” Shaw said. “Vision’s a lot different when you’re up. You see ?everything.”

Mangieri has been the starter at bandit this year, but he and Shaw have split snaps relatively evenly.

Shaw said the two are close friends off the field. They room together on the road.

When one man gets tired, he calls to the other to take his place.

The two both said they are confident enough in one another that they both feel ?comfortable watching the other take snaps.

IU’s bandits will be put to the test this weekend against Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, who ranks 10th in the nation in ?total QBR.

Inge said he’s been pleased with the growth he’s seen from both of his bandit linebackers.

He said he’s liked the way the two have developed and expects the bandit position to continue to grow in the future now that they’ve set the ?precedent.

“It’s a model we can use in recruiting,” Inge said. “For when you come here, you can grow and develop and when you become a Hoosier, great things are going to happen.”

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