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IU football: Who will fill the big hole in the linebacker room?

Indiana football head coach Tom Allen spent his coaching career on the defensive side of the ball prior to taking over as head coach, and at the 2022 Big Ten Football Media Days, he emphasized just how important defense, and in particular the linebacking group, are to his program.

As the 2022 Hoosiers look to turn a new page after a disappointing 2021 season, Allen expects the team to live and die by its linebackers.

“You’re only as good as your linebackers and your defense,” Allen said in his opening press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The leader of those linebackers, team captain Cam Jones, takes Allen’s mindset to heart, using it as motivation to compete and improve both personally and as a unit.

“It means a lot, especially coming from a guy like Coach Allen, he’s a linebacker coach,” Jones said. “Just the passion that Coach Allen brings and the love he has for this defense, it challenges me to push myself to another level.”

One major difference in the linebacker unit in 2022 compared to recent years is the absence of Micah McFadden, who was drafted by the New York Giants in the 2022 NFL Draft following an All-American and All-Big Ten career at Indiana from 2018 through 2021.

While Jones said he learned a lot from McFadden’s work ethic, the two arriving in Bloomington in the same recruiting class, Allen sees Jones as a player who can fill in the big shoes that the former All-American left when he declared for the NFL Draft following the season.

Micah was special. Pretty obvious on the field, tremendous young man off the field,” Allen said. “That is a void that Cam Jones has really responded to in a huge way and the leadership piece as well in that linebacker room.”

While McFadden leaves for the Big Apple, several new faces arrive to bolster the unit’s depth, including both transfer portal players and incoming freshman recruits. Kentucky transfer Jared Casey and Miami transfer Bradley Jennings were two players Allen and Jones both mentioned as key contributors in the group, in addition to four-star incoming freshman Dasan McCullough from Bloomington High School South, the program’s highest-ever rated high school recruit.

Jones says that these newcomers have a winning mentality that fit in with the rest of the group, allowing them to compete every day since they have arrived on campus.

“They come to work every single day, and I love that about them,” Jones said. “I love that about our whole entire team and our whole entire defense. There are no sad days or “I feel bad” days, we come to take care of business.”

Newcomers such as Casey, Jennings and McCullough are big names who have drawn headlines, but one player returning from last year’s team was mentioned by both Allen and Jones as someone who will see an expanded role is Aaron Casey. 

Nicknamed “Ace” by his teammates, the Georgia native has posted 45 tackles over his previous three seasons, but his character off the field earned him the inaugural George Taliaferro Award, an honor announced by Allen in his press conference allowing a player who exhibits the characteristics of the trailblazing Hoosier icon to wear the No. 44 jersey.

For his strengths as both a football player and a leader, Allen expects Casey to take on a larger role in the upcoming season.

“I think Aaron Casey is another young man that’s going to step up and do great things for us this season,” Allen said. “Because of his work ethic and his passion for our program and for himself to be able to be his very, very best.”

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