Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Position Group Previews – Linebackers
Spring practice is quickly approaching! Keep checking in here at the Hoosier Huddle for all of your comprehensive Spring Football coverage. Next up, we take a look at one of the more competitive and intriguing positions on the depth chart…linebackers.
Prior to the 2014 season, the Hoosiers brought in defensive coordinator Brian Knorr and switched to a 3-4 base defense. The results were mixed but I think it was a step forward and there’s a lot to be excited about moving forward. That being said, IU will need to replace one of their leaders from last season’s squad as David Cooper graduated. Cooper appeared in all 12 games in the 2014 campaign and was 4th on the team in tackles (60). Cooper wasn’t the biggest or fastest but he was a solid player (and was the team’s unofficial barber) that will be missed.
A Star in the Making
Tegray Scales was an absolute revelation during his freshman season. Scales, a 6’0”/216 pound LB from Cincinnati, OH, played in all 12 games, had 46 tackles (including 4.5 tackles for loss) and 3 interceptions. He was named to the Freshman All-American team and looks like an absolute star in the making. Scales has the quickness and athleticism to drop back in coverage and he showed excellent instincts and in run support. Scales appears to be a lock to start as a sophomore and he has the tools and potential to be an All-B1G linebacker for his remaining years at IU.
Scales isn’t the only returning linebacker that should have a big impact on the 2015 season. TJ Simmons, the team’s second leading tackler in 2014, is also back. Simmons, a 6’0”/230 pound Junior-to-be from Lakeland, Florida is expected to occupy another of the starting linebacker positions. He’s thicker than Scales (not as quick or mobile though) and I thought he had a pretty solid 2014 season. If he can get a little bit quicker and continue to provide excellent run support, he’ll keep on filling his role in the middle. Greg Gooch, a 6’2”/249 sophomore to be from Longwood, Florida, is quite the intimidating force. Gooch is a really big linebacker and a ferocious hitter that saw somewhat limited time as a freshman. He appeared in all 12 games and contributed 11 tackles (1.5 TFL). I expect his playing time to increase and he is a candidate for the spot vacated by David Cooper. Marcus Oliver is another returning player that should see some time in 2015. Oliver played quite a bit as a freshman but only appeared in 3 contests as a Sophomore in 2014. A 6’1”/241 pound player from Hamilton, OH, Oliver suffered a season-ending knee injury during IU’s upset victory at Missouri. Oliver’s health, and where he fits in on the depth chart, will be something to look for this spring.
Nile Sykes is a very interesting case. Sykes, a 6’2”/240 pound RSFR from Oak Park, Illinois, was signed to play for Notre Dame before deciding he didn’t want to play for the Irish. Sykes reported to Notre Dame’s campus last June but decided that he did not want to be a part of the Notre Dame program. He was released from his scholarship and quickly decided to join the Hoosiers. “We recruited Nile hard and he was a guy we really wanted. We are happy to have him and welcome him to our program,” Coach Wilson said last July.
Sykes is an intriguing piece because of his size and athleticism and I think he’ll battle for a starting linebacker position (although there is speculation that he might be tried out at the Bandit position to help with the pass rush).
We’d Like to See…
While the starting lineup certainly won’t be finalized in the Spring and nothing will be decided until after Fall camp, much can be learned and developed this Spring. There are a few things we’ll be looking for and some questions that IU will be looking to start finding answers to…
• The continued development of Tegray Scales: Scales has the potential to be one of the best defensive players IU has seen in a long-time. Can he develop into a cornerstone defender that can lead this defense?
• Scales and Simmons are definitely going to be a big part of the linebacker corps. Who will step in for David Cooper? The primary candidates are Marcus Oliver, Greg Gooch and Nile Sykes.
• Is Marcus Oliver healthy? He is expected to participate in the Spring, IU would love to have him at 100%.
• Is Nile Sykes going to be a factor at LB or will he be switched to Bandit? Are there are any Bandit’s that will switch to LB? Robert McCray, Dameon Willis or Clyde Newton could potentially switch to linebacker, particularly if Sykes is tried out at Bandit.