Covington stepping up ahead of final season

Upon his arrival as defensive coordinator in early 2016, Tom Allen made something clear to his linebackers.

Allen told the group that if you’re going to play that position in his defense, you have to be vocal. You have to demonstrate leadership qualities and you have to be willing to own the defense.

That was a challenge All-American Tegray Scales and All-Big Ten honoree Marcus Oliver rose to meet last fall, and it’s a request that Chris Covington is embracing entering his senior year. With Oliver gone, Covington is in line to become Indiana’s Mike linebacker this season, playing alongside Scales at a position that the Hoosiers will once again lean on in 2017.

“I think he and Tegray are two guys that can play side-by-side and be a very strong linebacker corps,” said Allen, who will begin his first regular season as IU’s head coach on Aug. 31. “I think he’s had opportunities in the past, played well this past season in those opportunities. Needs to be more consistent. That was the challenge, leadership-wise, on the field, off the field, staying healthy.”

After spending his freshman season at quarterback — and going down with a season-ending ACL injury in October of that year — and playing sparingly at linebacker as a sophomore, Covington asserted himself at the position as a junior.

He played in all 13 games, and made his first career start at Michigan in November, when Indiana trotted out three linebackers against the Wolverines’ Power run attack.

That was Covington’s best performance to date, with him making a personal-high six tackles, all solo, along with his first career sack and forcing his first career fumble.

Indiana coaches want similar production this fall from Covington, who’s posted an impressive 35-inch vertical jump. The top vertical by a college linebacker at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine was 37.5 inches.

With less than a month to go until the season opener, linebackers coach William Inge believes Covington is on his way to making the Mike position his own.

“Chris has to own the defense,” Inge said. “We’ve been very pleased because that’s what he’s been doing thus far. He’s been owning the defense. He’s been driving. He’s been gaining the confidence. He’s also been gaining the trust of the other position players, not just at linebacker.”

Making calls and instructing those around him is a familiar responsibility to Covington. Linebackers are essentially the quarterbacks of the defense, and quarterback is a position Covington knows well.

He earned all-city and all-conference honors as a quarterback at Chicago’s Al Raby High School, where he was the first athlete at the institution to earn a Division I scholarship.

“It’s kind of what I’ve always been, being a leader at quarterback in high school,” Covington said. “Quarterback is basically the ultimate leader of the football team, so I always had those leadership things around me. It hasn’t been a bad transition.”

Even with Covington seemingly the heir to Oliver’s old job, Indiana likes the depth around him, too.

Dameon Willis, who made his first career start for Oliver in the Foster Farms Bowl, performed admirably as a reserve in 2016. The redshirt junior posted 22 tackles, including one for loss.

IU also likes the potential of redshirt sophomore Reakwon Jones and junior college transfer Mike McGinnis, who earned All-American honors last season at ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“It’s going to take several,” Allen said. “That’s one thing I challenged last year with our guys, was Tegray did a tremendous job for us, but he played too many snaps. It just made it challenging in the end when we needed him, you know, to step up, and it was hard. Those are guys that have to really rise to the occasion.”

With a good fall camp, Covington appears to be first in line to start next to Scales.

And after a strong stretch-run to close his junior year, Covington says he’s ready.

“You gotta have that mindset that you can’t be stopped,” he said. “You gotta hate to lose. You really got to hate to lose when you’re playing in the Big Ten. Going into games, you gotta have that mindset of you can’t be stopped at all. I feel like I have those (qualities).”

10 comments

  1. This is the year for Covington to break out as a player. He is faster than Oliver and bigger which should be a good match with Scales. IU does need the back up LBs to step up too as a quick paced offense will mean more snaps for the defense. It would be great for IU’s D to improve again and get more 3 and out series along with more takeaways.

    1. In my memory I can’t remember a more athletically gifted LB at IU. If the DL can live in the improvement showed last season then 4 & 8 are going to have a hell of a year together. Covington may very well be better than Scales and maybe by an appreciable margin.

  2. I always thought Wilson’s super-fast-paced offense, while productive and fun to watch, was often counter-productive because, until last season, IU never had enough guys like Covington on defense to compliment that fast-paced offense. In year’s past, IU’s defensive players simply became exhausted, especially when the offense sputtered and went three-and-out in about 60 seconds. It will be interesting to see if Allen believes the improved talent and depth on defense allows IU to stay with that same fast paced offense or if the offense learns to “down shift” and slow the pace down, especially when IU has the lead in the second half. Covington is going to be fun to watch. And I believe that if he stays healthy this season, he’ll be playing in the NFL next year. Is there a more athletically gifted linebacker in the Big Ten?

  3. Downshift. Not all because of defense but hopefully for less mistake prone more efficient offense. IU offense does not have to go turtle slow but must smoothly run at a pace it can compensate for lack of talent on offense. (they never were as offensive as some think they were)

    1. They were indeed the offense most everyone touted because they did it with near average talent at every position.

  4. what has really happen is the Defensive talent for IU has caught up with the Offensive talent at IU. The IU secondary and linebacker group now has some depth. The defensive side of the football has gotten bigger, faster and stronger!! IU past recruiting has resulted in putting a very good (competitive) product on the field.

  5. I agree with the average talent at most positions but not the offense many touted. Ringing up 70 against Indiana State, many times not picking up first down in critical stages of close game, offensive success when game is in hand by opponent, lack of consistency and mistakes, and yes some good outbursts (not enough), have beat Purdue hardly make a highly touted offense. Rather more hype than highly touted. Oregon for a few years (after IU went to Oregon and won) was a highly touted offense, along with; Texas Tech, Baylor, among other highly ranked offensive teams that have 8, 9, 10 wins. There were more than a couple times where IU defense came through only to have offense to bog down and not come through.

  6. hahaha. The so called highly touted IU offense you refer to was much more hype than they realistically were highly touted. The hype created some game interest and often disappointing expectations. Big ten and ESPN channels when IU was televised took every chance they got to hype IU offense. Commentators were still trying to sell or hype offense throughout the game until by the end of the game they were making excuses if this or that. It happened several times where a pattern of eating there words was obvious. Of course if you are so desperate to note anything that might possibly be a positive in a losing tradition, you may very well erroneously identify IU offense as highly touted.

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