The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2019 Indiana University football season on August 31 against Ball State in Indianapolis.
Today we take a look at the linebackers.
One of the big story lines for the IU football program heading into the 2018 season was the loss of NFL caliber linebackers in Tegray Scales and Chris Covington.
The Hoosiers had big shoes to fill, and like much of defense last year, the linebacker group wasn’t as effective as they had been in recent campaigns.
IU will continue to be young and relatively inexperienced at linebacker in 2019, but there is a veteran leader and a strong core of promising young talent that leads you to believe that this is a group on the rise.
WHO IS GONE
Indiana lost an experienced starter in Dameon Willis due to eligibility. Michael McGinnis also used up his available seasons.
T.D. Roof originally left the IU program to walk away from football, but he later entered his name into the transfer portal and is now with Appalachian State.
THE 2019 ROSTER
WHO IS BACK
As the only upperclassman in the group, Reakwon Jones is the headliner and has been described by defensive coordinator Kane Wommack as the clear leader in the linebacker room.
Fellow linebacker Thomas Allen had this to say about Jones at the IU football media day.
“He works so hard. He does a phenomenal job in the weight room, on the practice field. Because the guys respect him so well, his name and his word are big. He’s the guy. He’s the man. He’s the leader of our defense.”
Allen himself saw plenty of action in 2018 in his third year with the program. Slowed this offseason by recovery from shoulder surgery, Allen is a strong communicator that should be able to carve out a meaningful role as a run stuffer.
NAMES ON THE RISE / IMPACT NEWCOMERS
The rest of the group is all about guys that appear ready to take a big step in their college careers.
Wommack has referred to Micah McFadden as an elite athlete that has developed better awareness and communication skills on the field. He made some big plays as a true freshman.
Cam Jones has shifted from the husky position to the “stinger” linebacker. Wommack also raves about Jones’ athleticism. He could be highly effective in coverage and blitzing.
James Miller has had buzz surrounding his name since a surprise start late last season. He seems to be clearly in line for a meaningful role. Head coach Tom Allen has called out his name specifically on multiple occasions as someone that is emerging.
Redshirt freshman Aaron Casey is a name to watch as perhaps the final player in the rotation. True freshmen Cam Williams and D.K. Bonhomme will need to work hard to earn a role and might be better suited to play four games or less and redshirt.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Senior Reakwon Jones spoke about his final season and the linebacker room.
The Hoosiers appear to be more athletic than big at linebacker. They appear to be capable of being strong in coverage and on the blitz. Tom Allen emphasizes takeaways, and the athletes in this group have the ability to create havoc.
But could this linebacker group be susceptible against the run, especially playing behind an unproven defensive line? That will be something to monitor, especially in Big Ten play.
This might be the most interesting group to watch for when the first depth chart comes out. Reakwon Jones seems to be clearly locked in as one starter, but who will join him?
Ultimately it won’t matter a great deal, as Cam Jones, McFadden, Miller and Thomas Allen should all see significant playing time.
The first two games should provide an opportunity to see which combinations can be the most productive before the rotations likely tighten up a bit in week three against Ohio State.
While they are young, this linebacker room has experience and a lot of very intriguing talent. Linebacker could end up being a strength of the team as the season rolls on.
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