Indiana's spring game may showcase better defense
By MICHAEL MAROT
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Indiana spent the past several months trying to fix its defensive woes by getting tougher.
Now it's time to prove they're better.
"One of the things we've talked about is playing with velocity," junior cornerback Greg Heban said earlier this week. "We don't feel like we played with a lot of velocity last year."
The Hoosiers will get a chance to show off any improvements at Saturday's annual cream and crimson game.
Indiana's shortcomings in 2011 were evident on virtually every game tape or simply and in the cold, hard statistics that still make coaches cringe.
They gave up 37.3 points and 458.7 yards per game last season. Opponents ran for nearly 3,000 yards, and, not surprisingly, the Hoosiers finished 1-11 under first-year coach Kevin Wilson. It was every bit as ugly as the numbers made it seem, too. Indiana allowed at least 40 points in five of its last seven games.
Clearly, the Hoosiers needed changes and Wilson believes the alterations he's made will give Indiana a new and improved look.
"I think our kids are not thinking as much, we're tackling better, we're doing everything we can legally to tackle in practice," Wilson said. "We've got a long way to go, but we're making strides."
At least that's progress given last year's abysmal performance.
And there are plenty of changes.
Wilson has added five junior college transfers to the defensive lineup including linebackers Jacarri Alexander and David Cooper, whose energy has become infectious. Three of last year's starters - Heban, linebacker Chase Hoobler and defensive tackle Larry Black Jr. - all acknowledge their influence is making a difference.
"We're coming downhill, we're not scared to put a hat on people now," Black said. "I don't mean that we were scared to hit last year, it wasn't that. But we weren't taking the proper angles to make hits."
New players and a new outlook aren't the only changes fans will see at Memorial Stadium.
Wilson hired Jon Fabris to coach defensive ends, a move players have embraced. He also made some changes to the system, changes that players and coaches are keeping under wraps, for now.
Players insist the perceived rift between the upperclassmen and younger players has vanished, and just having another year with the coaching staff and system has allowed the defense to read and react more quickly to plays simply because of their familiarity with the system.
"I see a more physical defense, I feel like we're getting better in terms of the linebackers and safeties with communication, and I think we've come a long way since last year," Hoobler said.
Hoosiers fans also want to see the battle at quarterback.
Tre Roberson, who started five games as a true freshman last season, is now trying to fend off a challenge from Cameron Coffman, a junior college transfer who has impressed the coaches with a strong spring.
Roberson seemed like the clear favorite when his two strongest competitors, Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker, decided to transfer. The Hoosiers took another hit when Kiel's highly touted brother, Gunner, de-committed from Indiana and eventually landed at Notre Dame.
All the changes forced Wilson to find other quarterbacks who could push Roberson, and Coffman, a sophomore, fits the role perfectly. In fact, Wilson said, Coffman has been working with the starters during spring practice.
"Cam's picking up our things in a very nice way. With the attrition we had, we really needed him," Wilson said. "I think he (Roberson) has the skill set to be a really complete player for us. He probably made more plays for us last year running around with his feet, but I think we need to throw the ball better. He's making some progress, and Cam is very much on his heels."
But what the Hoosiers need even more than a quarterback is a better defense.
"I feel like we're on the same page a lot more, and we know each other better," Hoobler said. "We've tweaked some things from last year and we're playing more physical and with better technique. Things have been going well."
Updated April 14, 2012