Graduating players like defensive end Nick Mangieri and bandit Zack Shaw were givens. Toss in junior Darius Latham’s early declaration for the NFL Draft, and this becomes a very different looking front for next season.
IU Coach Kevin Wilson doesn’t seem to view this loss as a return to a blank slate, though.
His example was last season when sophomore receiver J-Shun Harris went out with an injury before the season. The receiving corps was left with no major contributors returning, and some began to wonder who would catch the ball for the Hoosiers in 2015.
The concerns were short lived as IU trotted out the No. 1 passing offense in the Big Ten with receivers posting as much as 1,000, 900 and nearly 700 yards this season.
On the defensive line, Wilson said IU is bringing in the types of bodies it wants and now his players just need to step in and develop themselves.
“We’ve recruited well enough that we’re just going to expect Robert McCray to keep maturing and Jacob Robinson to keep maturing,” he said.
Robinson, a freshman, and McCray, a sophomore, are players who may not have loaded up the stat sheet in 2015, but rotated in quite often. McCray finished with 5.5 tackles for loss, and both could be seen pressuring the passer.
McCray was often the first person Wilson named Wednesday when asked about the defensive line. Recruiting websites give the impression he was a lightly recruited prospect out of Georgia. At one point he was even considered to be a linebacker.
Now, McCray is playing with the interior defensive linemen and earning the praise of his coach.
Another name Wilson was quick to bring up was freshman Ja’Merez Bowen’s, an offensive lineman who transferred from Cincinnati. Wilson said he is now playing on the defensive line.
Wilson listed other players like freshmen Joe Belden, Mike Barwick Jr. and Derrian Meminger.
At bandit, IU will be returning versatile athletes such as sophomore Greg Gooch and freshmen Niles Sykes and Brandon Wilson.
Brandon Wilson is a player whom Kevin Wilson and other coaches often talk about as someone with great physical tools. Whether he will play at bandit or the defensive line in the long run is what is still up in the air.
“If Brandon Wilson can play outside linebacker at 265, 270 and be productive, that’s better than a 230, 240 pound guy,” Kevin Wilson said. “But his body might grow.”
What next season may come down to is whether these young linemen are able to step up as well as the receivers did in 2015. The difference in Wilson’s mind about the offense and defense, he said, is sometimes the culture.
He said the offense is more consistently working hard and preparing well. Running back Jordan Howard was off-and-on injured this past season, so sophomore Devine Redding finished with more than 1,000 yards.
The defense, on the other hand, still needs to improve on that front, he said. He called defensive culture an Achilles’ heel.
“I still have more of a concern with the culture than schemes,” Wilson said.
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