If you hear the IU football coaches talking about the bull, it’s not the new IU mascot.
Under new defensive coordinator Charlton Warren, the Hoosiers have started using a hybrid linebacker-defensive end position called the bull.
The bull lines up on the outside of the line, but doesn’t stand in a three-point stance like a defensive end would. Instead, he stands up like a linebacker, allowing him to rush the quarterback, drop back into coverage or guard against any outside runs.
“That position is so versatile,” Warren said. “It can give you so much as a coordinator — flexibility in play-calling between coverage and rush.”
Head coach Tom Allen, who started working at IU as the defensive coordinator in 2016, oversaw a shift towards the bull in 2020. Warren coached at the University of Georgia, where the bull is utilized. He said the position’s role at IU was limited in 2020 because it was new, and IU will be enhancing it in 2021.
IU hired Warren after former defensive coordinator Kane Wommack left to take a head coaching job at the University of South Alabama. Under Wommack, the bull position came into use for the Hoosiers toward the middle of the season.
Junior linebacker D.K. Bonhomme was the main bull by the end of 2020 and started three of the final four games, recording 15 tackles, one sack and a safety. In the first depth chart IU released in 2021, senior Alfred Bryant was listed as the first in the bull, while Bonhomme was listed fourth.
“It’s different, but it’s a fun position,” Bryant said. “It’s a lot of hard work put into it. You’ve got to come to work every day, pretty much, and lock into coverages and defensive line work.”
Warren added the position of outside linebackers coach to special teams coordinator Kasey Teegardin’s list of duties in the spring in an effort to expand focus on the position for this season. Teegardin had previously worked with the husky and safety positions.
“All we did was continue to develop that position with a dedicated position coach,” Warren said. “Focus on that guy, get his technique right, get his fundamentals right, because that position can be a difference-making position in this scheme.”
Going into the second year with the bull, Teegardin said players will be asked to do more since they’ll be more comfortable with the role.
Warren said the position requires a more athletic player, which is the reasoning behind the shift from using a defensive lineman to an outside linebacker. The bull is similar to the edge rusher in the NFL, like the Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack or the Pittsburgh Steelers’ T. J. Watt.
“It’s going to give our defense a lot of variance on several levels,” Teegardin said. “You don’t have a 270-pound boundary defensive end like we used to in the old school days where you had those regular 4-3 defenses. Those were two big bookends.”
Warren said he’s used to the bull position from his last several coaching stops. Most schools use three defensive linemen in a down stance and a fourth outside linebacker at the edge.
At Georgia, where Warren was the defensive backs coach in 2019 and 2020, sophomore Azeez Ojulari served as the outside linebacker in the edge position, which is the term Georgia used instead of bull. Ojulari had 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2020 before being selected No. 50 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Georgia’s defense benefited from using such a versatile position in 2020. It led the nation in rush defense, only allowing 72.3 yard per game and 2.39 yards per rush. The Bulldogs’ defense also finished tied for 17th in the country in scoring defense with 20 points per game and tied for 11th in sacks with 32.
For an IU defense that was second in the nation in 2020 with 17 interceptions and first in the Big Ten with 25 sacks, the bull can create extra havoc to break up offensive plays even further.
“It just gives us flexibility with that guy,” Warren said. “If he can do it, there’s a lot of things you can do. The offense has to account for that guy.”