Big Ten: Bryan Payon
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to take a snapshot of the Indiana Hoosiers heading into spring ball.
Coming off a 3-9 season, the Hoosiers appear to be a team filled with weak spots and few strong points. But Indiana didn't lose many key seniors and could make significant upgrades in several areas if the team's health improves.
Strongest position -- Defensive end
Key returnees: Senior Jammie Kirlew, senior Greg Middleton
Key departures: Ryan Marando (28 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks)
The skinny: Indiana returns arguably the Big Ten's top pass-rushing tandem in Kirlew and Middleton. Each man has earned first-team All-Big Ten honors -- Kirlew in 2008 and Middleton in 2007 -- and if they can deliver breakout performances in the same season, look out. Middleton exploded for 16 sacks as a sophomore and Kirlew recorded 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last fall. Other strong spots include linebacker, safety (if healthy) and maybe quarterback.
Weakest position -- Running back
Key departures: Marcus Thigpen (94 carries, 631 rush yards, 7 touchdowns, 13 receptions, 2 receiving touchdowns)
The skinny: If Indiana boasted a true threat at running back, Kellen Lewis might be able to end his skill-position tour and simply take snaps again, as he did brilliantly in 2007. Thigpen quietly turned in a very solid 2008 season and will be a significant loss for a team looking for a featured ball carrier. Payton and McCray have experience that needs to translate into production, and the coaches are high on Willis, a heralded recruit. But until someone steps up and establishes himself in the backfield, this will continue to be a weakness. Other trouble spots include defensive tackle, which is very thin entering the spring, and offensive line.