Indiana Daily Student

IU football position previews: Linebacker

Linebacker Marcus Oliver (44) gets in an altercation with Iowa receiver Tevaun Smith (4) during the game against Iowa on Nov. 7, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers lost, 27-35.
Linebacker Marcus Oliver (44) gets in an altercation with Iowa receiver Tevaun Smith (4) during the game against Iowa on Nov. 7, 2015 at Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers lost, 27-35.

IU defensive coordinator Tom Allen has worked from the outset to instill a belief in his players that IU’s defense can be a respected force on the field, but his move to Bloomington has also muddied the water for IU’s linebacker corps.

The move from former defensive coordinator Brian Knorr’s 3-4 scheme to Allen’s 4-2-5 scheme simply doesn’t allow as many IU linebackers on the field in 2016 as they had a year ago.

Juniors Marcus Oliver and Tegray Scales, along with senior T.J. Simmons, boast the most experience of the group. All three have seen consistent playing time since they’ve stepped on campus.

But only two will be named starters come IU’s season opener.

Oliver led the Hoosiers in tackles in 2015 with 112 and was a turnover machine, causing four fumbles, picking one up and intercepting two passes. Simmons is IU’s active career leader in tackles with 213 and has yet to miss a game. Scales has five interceptions and five sacks, he leads the trio in the former and is tied for first in the latter.

At the moment, Oliver and Scales are listed as starters on the depth chart, with Simmons behind Oliver. The pair, especially Scales, have proven to be better defenders in pass situations, while Oliver’s knack for getting to the ball carrier on the ground is unquestionable and Scales’ improvement during his time in Bloomington has him on the trajectory to overtake Simmons in those situations. Simmons and Oliver started last season with Scales rotating in. 

Among the rest of the pack are student-athletes who may very well have the confidence to step on the field, even if they may not get the opportunity.

IU linebackers coach William Inge said that going into last season there were seven or eight guys who could go in and make a difference on any given down. Entering fall camp just two key contributors from 2015 are no longer listed at linebacker.

Sophomore Zeke Walker is now listed at defensive back and a candidate for playing time at Allen’s linebacker/safety hybrid position — known as husky. Senior Clyde Newton, who has accumulated nearly 100 tackles over 37 career appearances at linebacker, asked to move to running back.

Senior Dawson Fletcher and sophomore Dameon Willis Jr. will factor in behind the already mentioned trio. Fletcher, who actually spent his first two years in college as a safety before redshirting in 2014 when he switched to linebacker, collected 25 tackles, two for loss, and forced a fumble in 13 appearances last year.

Willis Jr. produced similar numbers and also factored into IU’s special teams play. He was recognized as the IU special teams player of the week in the win against Florida International.

Freshman Reakwon Jones and junior Chris Covington could also see the field. Jones was a six-time scout team player of the week in 2015 and Covington made appearances in the final eight games of the season. He made four tackles, making the switch to linebacker during spring ball after spending his freshman year at quarterback.

Depth Chart

(as of Big Ten Media Days)

LB

44 Marcus Oliver, 6-1, 240, Redshirt Junior

2 T.J. Simmons, 6-0, 235, Senior

LB

8 Tegray Scales, 6-0, 227, Junior

*41 Clyde Newton, 6-1, 225, Senior

*As mentioned, Newton asked to move to running back and the IU coaching staff approved the move. However, IU Coach Kevin Wilson said there may still be a need for him in “big boy defense” situations. This could explain why he’s still on the depth chart as a linebacker at the moment.

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