For the 2017 season IU returns one of the top defensive players in the Big Ten and the nation in linebacker Tegray Scales, but they will have to replace a key player at linebacker in Marcus Oliver. In this position primer Peegs.com takes a look at the linebacker position for the Hoosiers.
STATS: In 2016 Scales recorded 126 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four QB hurries, two pass break-ups, one forced fumble and one interception he returned for a touchdown.
NOTES: Tegray Scales had an outstanding 2016 season that saw him earn Second Team All-American honors from SI.com and Second Team All-Big Ten honors from the media, as well as being named the Indiana team MVP. The Cincinnati native could have left for the NFL but decided to come back, which was huge for the IU defense as Scales will be one of the top defensive players nationally and in the Big Ten in 2017. Plus, with fellow LB starter Marcus Oliver leaving early for the NFL it would have been a very tough blow for the Indiana defense to also lose Scales. With him back it gives the staff a player with NFL ability at a key spot in their defense. Scales is a very versatile player that plays the run well, he is solid against the pass, and he is very good at getting pressure on the QB as a blitzer. He should have a big senior season this fall for the Hoosiers.
STATS: In 2016 Covington recorded 29 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, one QB hurry and one forced fumble.
NOTES: Chris Covington appeared in all 13 games last fall with one start on the road at Michigan. The Chicago native was the primary back-up to Scales and he played well when he got his chances. With Marcus Oliver gone that opens up a spot at linebacker in the starting line-up, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the staff try Covington as the starter next to Scales. Doing that would give the Hoosiers two very athletic players at the linebacker spots in their 4-2-5 defense. Even if Covington does not start, he will see a good deal of snaps throughout the season as the staff likes to rotate players at linebacker to keep them fresh.
CLASS: Redshirt Junior
STATS: In 2016 Willis recorded 22 tackles and one tackle for loss.
NOTES: Dameon Willis appeared in 12 games with one start last fall for the Hoosiers. His one start came in the Foster Farms Bowl against Utah when Marcus Oliver was unable to play because of an injury. With Oliver gone to the NFL it would seem that Willis is in line to take over his spot as the starter at MLB in 2017. Like Oliver, Willis is not going to stand out on the field with his physical skills, but also like Oliver, he is a steady player that knows the defense and is typically in the right spot. Willis has only made the one start in his IU career, but he has played a good deal of football and he should be able to step in and be a solid replacement for Oliver if called upon to do so.
CLASS: Redshirt Sophomore
STATS: In 2016 Jones recorded two tackles in 11 games of action.
NOTES: Reakwon Jones played in 11 games last fall for the Hoosiers with the majority of his playing time being as a member of special teams. Coming to IU in the fall of 2015 Jones was often compared to Tegray Scales because he has a similar build, and because of his athleticism. He has not had the early impact that Scales did when he joined the Indiana program, but he is still a young player with a good deal of upside. With Scales and Covington still ahead of him the guess is Jones will still be primarily a special teams player this fall, but he has a chance to see some time with the defensive unit at outside linebacker.
CLASS: Redshirt Senior
STATS: Simmons did not see any game action in 2016. In his career he has played in 37 games with 35 starts and he has recorded 213 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, six sacks, three pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
NOTES: For the first three years of his Indiana career T.J. Simmons was a mainstay in the IU defense at middle linebacker. The Florida native racked up more than 200 tackles in three years, but when Tom Allen arrived last year and the Hoosiers switched to a 4-2-5 scheme it left Simmons as the odd man out. He was not a great fit in a defense where lateral agility and playing in space is required of the linebackers. Simmons excels when he can come down hill and not have to worry as much about going side-to-side. The question going forward is where does he play if he can’t be effective at linebacker. It will be interesting to see how IU attempts to use him this spring.
CLASS: Redshirt Junior
NOTES: Mike McGinnis is a junior college transfer that enrolled at IU in January and will participate in spring ball with the Hoosiers. McGinnis played middle linebacker at ASA College in New York and he was very productive as he recorded 165 tackles and 33 tackles for loss over his two years there. With the loss of starting MLB Marcus Oliver to the NFL there is an opportunity for McGinnis to take his spot in the starting line-up. It is a huge advantage for McGinnis that he was able to transfer mid-year and be with the team for spring practice. McGinnis is a physical linebacker that displays pretty good athleticism on film. At the very least, he should be in the rotation at linebacker which would mean he will see a good deal of playing time this fall.
NOTES: Thomas Allen is the son of Indiana head coach Tom Allen. This past fall at Tampa Plant H.S. he had a huge senior season as he was named the 2016 Tampa Bay Defensive Player of the Year after recording 147 tackles, 51 tackles for loss and six sacks as a senior. He was also named Second Team All-State. In his high school career Allen was a very productive player with 470 tackles, 119 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and one interception. He is on campus at IU and will participate in spring ball with the team.
Marcus Oliver – In his career Oliver played in 39 games with 25 starts. He recorded 255 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 12 forced fumbles, nine pass break-ups, five sacks, three QB hurries, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Dawson Fletcher – In his career Fletcher played in 37 games and he recorded 48 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one fumble recovery and one pass broken-up.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Starter: Tegray Scales
Back-up: Chris Covington
3rd string: Reakwon Jones
Starter: Dameon Willis
Back-up: Mike McGinnis
3rd string: Thomas Allen
At linebacker the Hoosiers return their top defensive player from last year in Tegray Scales, and they also return a couple other linebackers that have seen a fair amount of playing time in Chris Covington and Dameon Willis. Even with the loss of a good player in Marcus Oliver the linebacker position should once again be one of the stronger units on the team for head coach Tom Allen. Willis is probably the favorite heading into spring ball to be the starter at MLB next to Scales, but he will have stiff competition from junior college transfer Mike McGinnis, and he might also have to beat out Covington if the staff decides to give him a shot at middle linebacker. Reakwon Jones and Thomas Allen give the Hoosiers quality depth at linebacker even though both players have little to no experience at the college level. A big reason for the significant improvement the defense showed last year was because of the play of the linebackers, and with a good deal of talent and experience returning look for this unit to be very productive again this fall.