Marc Lebryk, USA Today

Damion Willis and Reakwon Jones are two to watch for at linebacker as we approach Thursday's opener

The future of linebacker at Indiana is getting bolstered by the emergence of sophomore Dameon Willis and redshirt frosh Reakwon Jones.

With the starting experience of Tegray Scales, Marcus Oliver and T.J. Simmons, it will be hard for some of the younger Hoosier linebackers to see the field. Especially considering this year's move to a 4-2-5 alignment under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen.

But August is the time to stand out and make a case for playing time. With that in mind, last week we asked Indiana linebacker coach William Inge if anybody in his group had made a big leap from the spring?

Inge did not hesitate with his answer.

"I would say Dameon Willis," Inge said. "He’s been the one where his speed and quickness, athleticism, his body type.

"He is someone who can be an every down linebacker. In passing scenarios, in short yardage run scenarios, we’ve been pleased with his performance to date."

A redshirt sophomore from St. Ignatius High in Cleveland, Willis got a taste of Big Ten football in 2015. He saw time in all 13 games at both linebacker and on special teams. He recorded 16 tackles, eight solo, with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Indiana currently lists Willis at 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds. He's been seeing most of his time at the middle linebacker or "Mike" spot in the 4-2-5. That is where you'll see Oliver and Simmons, so it should be one of the deepest positions on the Hoosier team. Former quarterback Chris Covington is yet another guy talented enough to see the field at the spot.

Outside or "strong" linebacker is no different. Along with Scales, former safety Dawson Fletcher continues to impress there and Indiana has a raw talent in 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt freshman Reakwon Jones

"Reakwon Jones at linebacker is really coming along well," Scales said last week. "Seeing (real) progression in his development."

Jones worked hard in his redshirt fall last year, earning scout team player of the week six times. He's one of many Hoosier players who will be back in their home state for Thursday's opener at Florida International.

"The biggest challenge for Reakwon, to get him into the mix so he can see and experience what exactly is going to happen for you to be lion on the field," Inge said. "When you’re on the field you have to be a predator. You don’t have time to wait, you only have time to react.

“That’s what Willis is bringing to the group right now as a young player.”


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