Spring Preview- It's Time for the Young Pups to Become the Big Dogs at Linebacker

Reakwon Jones (7) is now the senior leader at linebacker  image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Reakwon Jones (7) is now the senior leader at linebacker image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)

Spring practice is set to begin soon and Hoosier Huddle is previewing the upcoming camp with positional breakdowns and much more. Today’s preview is a look at the middle of Indiana’s 4-2-5 defense, the linebackers. We’ll start with a brief profile of each player in the position group, proceed with a few things we’ll be looking for in the spring and then wrap up with a projection of the depth chart for the 2019 season.

Reakwon Jones – Redshirt Senior – 6’2”/235 pounds (One Word: Mindset)

Reakwon Jones came to Indiana from Lynn Haven, Florida, prior to the 2015 season. The athletic linebacker redshirted the 2015 season and then found himself stuck behind Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver and then Tegray Scales and Chris Covington. He played in 21 games in 2016 and 2017, primarily on special teams, as the veteran linebackers took the vast majority of snaps. Because of his limited action, Jones entered the 2018 season as somewhat of an afterthought but he entered the starting lineup as a redshirt junior and had a steady season for the young defense. He started ten games, recording 36 tackles and earning a pair of defensive player of the week honors (Virginia and Ball State). Jones is not a star but if he continues to develop this spring, he’ll certainly be a part of the rotation in his final collegiate season.

James Miller – Redshirt Freshman – 6’2”/231 pounds (One Word: Not Published)

A stud at Florida’s Armwood High School, James Miller came to Indiana prior to the 2018 season as a somewhat raw but very athletic prospect. He needed to add some strength and weight but it was clear from his highlight film that he was one to watch for the future. After seeing no action early in the year, Miller ended up playing in three games, including a start against Michigan. Now at 6’2” and more than 230 pounds, James Miller is expected to have a much larger role in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. This spring, Miller needs to begin to show that his athleticism and talent can translate to production on the field. If he does, he’s a contender for a starting position.

Cam Jones – Sophomore – 6’3”/219 pounds (One Word: Sacrifice)

A sophomore from Memphis, Cam Jones flashed his playmaking ability during his debut season in 2018. He played primarily Husky during 11 games and had two forced fumbles, 20 tackles, one fumble recovery, one interception and one pass breakup. Jones is a very athletic player that can play either Husky or linebacker. Regardless of what exact position he is playing, it certainly seemed like the IU defense was better when he was involved. He’s now listed at linebacker but that doesn’t mean he is now exclusively in this position and won’t be deployed as a Husky in 2019. If he continues to make impact plays, he’ll see the field plenty moving forward.

Mo Burnam – Redshirt Sophomore – 6’2”/228 pounds (One Word: Ambition)

Mo Burnam is a redshirt sophomore from Conyers, Georgia that has not seen any game action during his two seasons in Bloomington. He redshirted the 2017 season and didn’t play at all in 2018. He came to Indiana as an inside linebacker, viewed as a future replacement for the Marcus Oliver role. He was passed by guys like Micah McFadden last season and this spring represents a very big window of opportunity. Burnam needs to standout and show he can contribute or he might be lost in the shuffle for a third straight season.

Thomas Allen – Sophomore - 6’3”/236 pounds (One Word: Consistency)

The redshirt freshman from Plant High School in Florida made his presence felt in 2018, earning 28 tackles and coming up with his first career interception. Allen played in all 12 games last season and was a part of the linebacker rotation, often as a primary backup. Allen is one of the biggest linebackers on the roster and there has been some speculation that he could be shifted to a situational defensive end to better maximize his skill set. While not slow, Allen is not among IU’s fastest linebackers and that move could suit him. There is no indication the IU staff is considering that though and for now, he remains a part of the linebacker corps. If he stays there, he’ll continue to see snaps as a reliable option.

Aaron Casey – Redshirt Freshman - 6’2”/236 pounds (One Word: Confidence)

Casey is one of the more interesting players on this list. He was a highly-regarded prospect from Georgia and entering the season, he was considered by many to be a player that would have to contribute as a freshman. However, he was redshirted and saw no game action. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t doing well though. Casey was named a two-time scout player of the week on defense and a two-time scout player of the week on special teams. This is an important spring for him to stake his claim to some 2019 playing time.

Micah McFadden – Sophomore - 6’2”/227 pounds (One Word: Climb)

Despite his ridiculous production during his final season at Plant High School in Florida, McFadden was largely overlooked as a member of the 2018 recruiting class. He did not pay any attention to what others thought of his chances to play in the Big Ten though. McFadden played in all 12 games, posted 20 tackles and was a generally positive impact player all season. Quite frankly, he was one of the biggest pleasant surprises on the squad. While he is not a speed merchant, McFadden displayed an ability to go sideline to sideline and he is going to be force during his time in Bloomington.

Robert Tolbert – Redshirt Freshman – 5’11”/220 pounds (One Word: Not Published)

Tolbert is a redshirt freshman walk-on from Texas. He joined the program during the 2018 season and will be going through his first spring with the team. He is slightly undersized at 5’11” but as the only walk-on linebacker, he’ll be relied upon for solid performances on the practice squad.

Indiana signed Cameron Williams, a four-star linebacker from Andrean High School, and D.K. Bonhomme, a high three-star linebacker from Canada by way of Florida. Neither will be with the Hoosiers in the spring so they will not be included in these profiles. If they both arrive on campus, I would expect Williams to see the field quite a bit in 2019 while Bonhomme would be a candidate to play a few games and redshirt his freshman season.

Depth Chart Projection

The Hoosiers primary defense sees them deploy only two linebackers and projecting this group is no easy task. I think Reakwon Jones can be penciled in as one of the starters. The senior was solid in 2018 and should be even better with more playing experience. The second starter is more difficult to pin down but I’ll take James Miller. He is a phenomenal athlete and should be more polished with a season under his belt. Cam Jones and Micah McFadden are next in line and I think both will see lots of playing time. I would look for freshman Cam Williams, redshirt sophomore Thomas Allen and redshirt freshman Aaron Casey to be involved as well. This group is young and well-positioned for current and future success. A year ago today, this was perhaps the position group we were most worried about. The view from the outside looking in is much more positive today.