Rebuilding defenses in the Big Ten

After taking a look Thursday at Big Ten offenses in need of repair, let's switch the focus to the defensive side. I think some of you misunderstood the selections. These are units that struggled in 2009 and need to get better this fall, not good units that lost a few key pieces from last year (i.e. Penn State's defense, Iowa's defense).

Here we go ...


1. Indiana: Defense repeatedly has been the big problem in Bloomington, and last season was no exception. Indiana finished 10th in the league in both points allowed (29.5 ppg) and yards allowed (401 ypg). What's scary is that the Hoosiers lose three starters in the secondary and several extremely productive front-seven players in end Jammie Kirlew and linebacker Matt Mayberry.

2. Michigan: The Wolverines fell victim to a series of major defensive breakdowns in 2009, particularly during Big Ten play. They lose their top two defenders in end Brandon Graham and cornerback Donovan Warren, and still lack the type of scholarship numbers they need on that side of the ball. Michigan finished last in the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense during conference games last fall.

3. Illinois: Ron Zook's offensive staff paid the heaviest price for last season's shortcoming, but the struggles on defense weren't excused, either. Illinois couldn't stop anyone during nonconference play and finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring defense (30.2 ppg) and total defense (403.2 ypg) last season (all games). Injuries and a lack of depth at key spots doomed the Illini, and Zook demoted both his defensive coordinators following the season.


1. Illinois: Vic Koenning was a very good hire as defensive coordinator, and he has ramped up the level of accountability for an underachieving unit. Illinois has some good pieces in linemen Corey Liuget and Clay Nurse, linebacker Ian Thomas and cornerbacks Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne. If linebacker Martez Wilson stays healthy and can be a leader, Illinois could turn things around this fall.

2. Indiana: The Hoosiers coaches like their young players and incoming juco transfers, but history isn't on their side. Indiana hasn't fielded a defense ranked in the top half of the FBS for more than a decade, and the unit loses a lot of production in the front seven. Perhaps a switch to the 3-4 alignment will spark the Hoosiers, but they need to build depth, especially in the secondary.

3. Michigan: We heard quite a bit about promising young defenders this spring, guys like Cameron Gordon and J.T. Floyd who could spark the defense. But the spring game didn't ease many concerns about the group, and Michigan coaches admit they'll be relying on incoming freshmen like cornerback Demar Dorsey for a boost this fall. The talent certainly is there, but the questions will linger until after the season kicks off.