Hoosiers like their options at linebacker

For the first time since 1987, Indiana has an All-American linebacker in Tegray Scales.

Now, the Hoosiers need to identify someone to play next to him.

The early departure of Marcus Oliver has created an opening this year at Mike linebacker. Nearly three weeks into spring practice, IU feels it has plenty of options.

There’s Chris Covington and Dameon Willis, a pair of upperclassmen who enjoyed moments of success in 2016. Junior college All-American Mike McGinnis has also acquitted himself well to his new surroundings, while others in Indiana’s linebacking corps are looking to surface once the spring meets the summer — if not long before.

“This is a developmental process,” linebackers coach William Inge said. “As a team, we want to make sure that we can develop all the guys at the positions. For us, getting guys reps and making sure we’re perfect in our reps, that’s one of the goals we have for us in our position. Getting them reps is paramount.”

In Oliver, the Hoosiers lose a proven playmaker who earned a reputation for chasing down ball carriers. He’s the program leader with 12 forced fumbles, and in 39 career games, he also made 255 tackles and 24.5 tackles for loss.

He left a high standard for his replacement to meet, but the Hoosiers seem confident a worthy successor is already in their midst.

There’s Willis, who started for Oliver in the Foster Farms Bowl, capping a season that saw him appear in 12 games. At 6-foot-1, 227 pounds, he carries a similar frame to Oliver and started to show more flashes as a reliable contributor during the second half of last season.

Covington is an impressive athlete, who began his college career at quarterback in 2014. After returning to linebacker, Covington also surfaced as a potential future playmaker in the IU defense late last season.

He started along with Scales and Oliver in a November game at Michigan, finishing the year with 29 tackles, 19 solo stops and two sacks.

“We’ve been very pleased with his growth and his development and his understanding of the system and the structure,” Inge said. “he’s been a great driver in leading our defense.”

That’s an important component to all of this. Leadership was a trait coach Tom Allen forced out of his linebackers immediately upon his arrival as defensive coordinator last spring.

Oliver rose to meet that challenge, and Scales did, too.

For his upcoming senior season, Scales returns as the face of IU’s defense — the program’s first All-American linebacker since Van Waiters — having led the nation with 23.5 tackles for loss and 93 solo tackles.

From his view at the lead of the pack, Scales likes what he sees around him — especially with regard to the position competition heating up next to him.

“You got Chris coming in. Last year he had quite a few reps,” Scales said. “Mike McGinnis, T.J. Simmons. You got young guys like (Thomas Allen) and Kenny Arnold, young guys coming in and competing. That’s going to make our room better.”

Scales joked that the fellow linebackers are calling Simmons “fresh legs” after he redshirted last season. Simmons is a veteran of the Big Ten, having logged time in 37 career games and making 73 tackles during his junior season in 2015.

The Hoosiers want to tap into that experience — and utilize his presence — this spring and fall.

“TJ has a personality of knowing and understanding that he can control some things — his effort, his attitude, his passion and the love of the game,” Inge said. “When he shows up to practice, his personality literally infects five or six guys around him right off the bat just because he’s so happy. When you can control that and you know that you can do the things that you want to do, great things are going to come. Great things are going to happen.”

The Hoosiers hope the same can be said for their linebacking corps as a whole as the competition continues.


  1. Linebacker coach Inge is (was?) also the guy in charge of special teams. Let’s hope that either he gets from Allen what he didn’t get from Wilson to make the kicking game respectable, or that Allen gives that job to somebody else so that it becomes respectable.

  2. davis, special teams does need to improve and Coach Allen emphasizes them. Either making them a special group to the team or changing coaches I am sure Coach Allen will do what it takes to make them better.

    It is good to read a report on the LBs. IU defense will need the LBs to step up and become a force on the field. It looks as if the LBs have depth at inside LB which will help especially against hurry up teams which are now becoming the trend in the B1G. With 5 players, one being an All-American, with some experience the LBs should be in good shape to become a force on the defense.

  3. Oliver was adequate and a +. What gave him the most notoriety was he was the best on the team peeling the ball away from ball carriers. Really high on Covington with his very good size, speed and athleticism to raise the performance bar for the position in not only the run stop, shedding blocks but blitzing and in coverage. I’m going to guess because he was a QB even back in HS he has better vision to process reads that allows him to make noticeable plays. I can’t see a significant spot for Simmons except ST’s, 3rd and short/4th and short, possibly goal line stand or opponent going for 2. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe he surprises me. I can see Covington given enough playing time to approach Scales All American status. We’ll see. This D should be a stouter group than last year.
    Betting line right now has Ohio State giving 20 to IU. Probably about right but it won’t be because of the D.

  4. First game of the season or not I’m betting CKW opens up the playbook as much as possible. He is going to want to prove a point.

    Coach Allen will be expecting that, however. Should be fun.

    1. My gut tells me KW and OSU’s offense will be like oil and water. He disapproved of Roberson’s ad lib play and it’s possible Barrett will run into the same thing. I’ll take Allen’s defense over Wilson’s offense any time, anyplace. IU will be a 18-19 point dog at kickoff but could very well win in a low scoring game?

  5. If, the NCAA approves the 10th coach position in April, it was rumored that I U could add a coach for special teams, that might help the situation.

  6. IU South. Yeah, earlier I thought IU was just being cheap/dumb by not having a special teams coach, but then I looked at other programs and it doesn’t seem that other teams have a dedicated special teams coach, either. If the philosophy is to have the best players on the field whenever possible, then a dedicated special teams coach makes no sense ’cause he’ll be standing around with nothing to do while the first team O and D are practicing. But if you take the second tier players for special teams, then a dedicated coach can work with them while the rest of practice goes on. More practice makes up for lack of talent?

    1. If you look at the best programs they usually have a senior assistant, sometimes even the head coach, handle special teams.

      Frank Beamer handled all the special teams at Virginia Tech and they were made up of starters at other positions.

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