Three starting defensive linemen left the program in the offseason.
IU defensive line coach Mark Hagen returns to the IU coaching staff.
The defensive scheme changes from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen.
It’s safe to say the IU defensive line is taking on a new look this season. And it starts with strength in numbers, Hagen said.
“From day one I said our strength and our firepower has to be in our numbers,” Hagen said. “We’re not just going to rely on two or three guys up front to carry the group.”
Those “two or three guys” last season were former Hoosiers Nick Mangieri, Zack Shaw and Darius Latham, who all left the program — Mangieri and Shaw due to graduation, Latham for the NFL Draft.
Of IU’s 30 2015 sacks, 17.5 walked away in those three players. The clutch pass rushes and sacks on third down, the only players to record double-digit tackles for loss on the defense.
Hagen said he knows how the current defensive line makes up for those losses is a big question mark heading into the new season.
“It won’t just be lining up with veteran, talented players play after play,” Hagen said. “There’ll be some of that, but we’ll have to mix it up, up front. When you look on paper at the production you lose, it’s certainly a question mark coming into the season.”
Players who didn’t see much of the field in 2015 will be relied upon to make up for some of that loss up front. Players like junior Robert McCray, junior Greg Gooch and sophomore Nile Sykes.
Sykes and Gooch transitioned from linebackers to linemen in the offseason, and IU Coach Kevin Wilson mentioned Gooch as Shaw’s backup in the bandit position last season.
But, the reliability of the veteran defensive linemen last season made it difficult for backups to find time on the field, leaving juniors like Gooch and McCray with little playing time.
In total the backup defensive linemen compiled 11 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Hagen said the three players who needed to and have stepped up in the offseason are senior Ralph Green, junior Nate Hoff and sophomore Jacob Robinson, and all have taken places as leaders.
Hagen himself is a familiar, yet fresh leader in the locker room.
The defensive line coach has coached the Hoosiers twice — once from 1992 to 1995 and then again under Wilson from 2011 to 2012. Hagen then took defensive position coaching opportunities from 2013 to 2015 at Texas A&M, where he coached in three bowl games.
Hagen's 11 bowl games are the second-most of IU's assistant coaches.
Wilson even had Hagen in the back of his mind when deciding on a defensive coordinator.
“When I went with Tom I came back and said, ‘Hey, I'm going to go this direction. But in the D-line spot, would you want to do this? I can make it attractive for you,’” Wilson said about talking to Hagen about the defensive line position. “No guarantee if Coach Allen were to have an opportunity and move on, that (Hagen would) be the next guy in line.”
Despite the new look and adjustments in leadership, Hagen said there’s no doubt in his mind the defensive line group has gotten better during the offseason, and Wilson said he appreciates a coach who has coached at a high-level program like Texas A&M and the standard Hagen has learned from that opportunity.
“He's holding our players at a higher standard. He's recruiting at a higher standard,” Wilson said. “And he left good and came back better. I'm grateful he's here.”
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