Hagen examining options on IU’s D-line

Mark Hagen wrestles with the question nearly every day.

Which players on his defensive line get snaps and when do they get them? For Hagen, Indiana’s defensive line coach, snap counts are essentially moving targets, dependent on the game and the situation.

As much as Hagen rotates players on and off the line, there’s a lot to consider when mixing and matching — especially with this year’s group.

“It’s a deep group right now,” Hagen said. “Certainly, we have to develop them. … We need everybody. We don’t have a front line that we’re going to play 65-70 snaps. We’re just not that type of group. But what our group has always done is buy in. They give me everything they’ve got for four or five snaps, (then) we rotate guys.”

Some of Hagen’s linemen will play more than others, of course.

Guys such as defensive tackle Jacob Robinson and end Nile Sykes form the core of IU’s D-line, while defensive tackles Jerome Johnson, Mike Barwick, Ja’merez Bowen and Kayton Samuels and ends Gavin Everett, Allen Stallings, Lance Bryant, Tramar Reece and others complement the coverage.

Hagen says he’ll determine which players get the bulk of the snaps as the game dictates.

“There’s lots of scenarios,” Hagen said. “We talk about that probably every day. A lot of it depends on the type of game, too. Is the team just pounding you in the run game, or are they throwing the ball a lot, too? It changes from game to game.

“There’s times we’ve got our starters out there, and at the end of the game it’s four different guys, because what I like to do as a position coach is roll with guys. You get into the middle of the third quarter, fourth quarter and who is playing well for you? It’s not always the starters.”

Sykes, who missed last season due to injury, enjoyed a breakout 2016 campaign, during which he asserted himself as IU’s top pass rushing option.

With Sykes out of action in 2017, Stallings began to emerge as another pass rushing option, and Hagen is optimistic he’ll continue to grow into that role this fall.

As the month continues, Hagen is hopeful more reliable depth emerges at the strong side, where Everett, a junior who was just placed on scholarship this week, is likely to start.

“That strong side needs to continue to come on,” Hagen said. “I’ve seen Lance emerge and Mike Ziemba has a great skill set. He’s really more of a tight end, so he’s still learning how to play defense. … I think he’s got a bright future. He’s just got to keep on learning the system. That’s where having a Nile Sykes (helps). We can bump him out to the strong side because you’ve got Stallings and (James Head) and Reece.”

Indiana is also optimistic that Samuels can provide reliable depth in the middle, especially with the losses of Nate Hoff, Juan Harris and LeShaun Minor.

Samuels has been working on his conditioning since arriving on campus this summer. Hagen said he wants the 6-foot Syracuse transfer to play somewhere between 315 to 320 pounds.

“I think he came in a little bit out of shape,” Hagen said. “He got here about mid-summer. I think he was heavy. He would admit to that. We’ve seen him get his weight down. … It’s nice when you have a veteran like that that knows what’s effective for him and knows that maybe he isn’t where he needs to be. It’s not like I’m pulling and tugging and trying to get him to do things. There’s an immediate buy-in.”

Hagen says he senses buy-in across the line. He has plenty of bodies to work with.

Mixing, matching and seeing which players assert themselves will be his focus this fall.

“I know we’ve got a lot of guys who can play,” Hagen said. Some a lot more than others. I think we’re deeper. I had hoped that going into (fall camp) and I think we’ve seen guys come along.”