Scales tipping at linebacker for IU

Before his toes touched the turf at Memorial Stadium last weekend, before he dived into his college debut with aplomb, Indiana freshman linebacker Tegray Scales carried with him a simple message.

That white No. 8 on your jersey? That name on the back? Make people remember them both.

Make your mark, kid.

It was small, but impactful, advice given by IU defensive coordinator Brian Knorr, who recognizes the talent Scales holds in his young, but able body. The 6-foot, 208-pound freshman figures to be a key part of Indiana’s 3-4 defense, which will rely heavily on its linebackers, with Scales one of a handful of younger guys for whom much will be asked this fall.

But Scales seems able to handle it. He did, after all, follow through on Knorr’s message, right?

“Yeah, I think so,” Scales said. “Just for the simple fact that I was out there flying around. From a mental standpoint, I’ve still got some stuff to work on. But I’m pretty sure they’ll remember me.”

Scales was a fine addition for Indiana, which won his recruiting sweepstakes against teams like Minnesota, Illinois and West Virginia, among others. The three-star recruit is one of the headline additions to a linebacking corps that sits as one of IU’s deepest units on either side of the ball.

Along with sophomore Marcus Oliver and fellow freshmen Greg Gooch and Niles Sykes — not to mention a group of older linebackers led by senior David Cooper — Scales is going to see plenty of action over the weeks to come. The outside backer was in for 23 plays in Indiana’s 28-10 season-opening victory over Indiana State on Aug. 30, aiming to show that he’s ready for the responsibilities of a veteran in only his first few months on campus.

“He’s very active,” Knorr said. “He’s a dynamic player.”

As such, Indiana needs him on the field. Scales credits veteran teammates like Cooper and injured linebacker Steven Funderburk for helping him make the quick transition from Cincinnati Colerain to Indiana. Funderburk, in particular, has gone out of his way to help, sticking around after team meals to go over concepts and diagramming plays for Scales.

“He’s helped me a whole bunch, even though he can’t play (after season-ending back surgery),” Scales said. “He’s really, really helped. Of course, coach (William) Inge took me under also and really helped me a lot with extra work whenever I’m free to make sure I get the basics down.”

Inge, IU’s second-year linebackers coach, carries a mantra with him inside and outside of his position room. He wants his players to compete with a gladiator mindset. Be a gladiator, he says.

Scales is among the ones who get the message.

“We protect our brothers out on the field,” Scales said. “And, from a linebacker standpoint, taking the lead over the defense. … We pretty much run the defense, so we have to make sure everybody is aligned and adjusted. It’s a very big thing for the linebackers. We really buy into that.”

Scales made only one solo tackle in his debut against the Sycamores, but he moved with purpose. He also may have moved around a bit too much. Knorr wants to see Scales commit to coverages rather than jumping in and out. When Scales refers to his continued work on the mental side of the game, understanding and sticking to coverages is a primary area of development.

The physical side? The football skills? They’re already showing through Scales’ first few months on campus. Heading into Indiana’s second game of the season Saturday at Bowling Green, Scales wants to build off his opening effort and continue establishing himself as a major player in IU’s defense over the years to come.

“I’m just trying to play fast and let coach know that I’m ready,” Scales said.