Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
CHICAGO -- Indiana's demise on defense last season could be attributed mainly to injuries, but a lack of communication also played a role in the struggles.
Linebacker and co-captain Will Patterson made that crystal clear after a loss to Central Michigan when he said, "We've got certain guys that play like warriors every Saturday, and we've got the few guys that kind of do their own thing." Patterson received a positive response to his comments, but he knew the problems wouldn't completely be fixed until the offseason.
To address the communication issues during the winter and spring, Indiana's defenders crafted their own code language. They use it to relay coverage schemes at the line of scrimmage, especially to players who don't initially catch the signals from the sideline.
Patterson thinks safety Nick Polk or cornerback Ray Fisher originally created the code.
"Even some of the coaches may not realize what we're talking about," Patterson said. "It sounds kind of childish, but it keeps us on the same page, and that's all that really matters, communicating with each other."
The system helped this summer during 7-on-7 drills.
"We don't like to yell out the coverage to the offense because [Ben Chappell] is a smart quarterback and he'll make adjustments as soon as he hears something like that," Patterson. "So we figured out another way. We can say it out loud and everybody will understand."
The Hoosiers finished last in the league in both total defense (432.2 ypg) and scoring defense (35.2 ppg) in 2008, but they return a nice core of individuals for 2009.
Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton both have earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in their careers. Linebacker Matt Mayberry has shown flashes of his ability, and seasoned safeties Polk and Austin Thomas return from injuries.
The pieces are there, and now the players are all speaking the same language.
"We have big plans," Patterson said. "We have so much potential on that side of the ball. The different personalities we had last year was kind of a downfall to the communication, and that was one thing that needed a lot of improvement, just making sure we're set with each other."