Allen looking for next crop of linebackers to step up

Tegray Scales made an appearance at Indiana’s first full-padded practice of the spring last week.

But the former All-American linebacker was there to watch, not participate. After leaning on Scales and those around him at the position in recent seasons, the Hoosiers are starting over at linebacker this year.

Aside from quarterback, no other spot on IU’s roster will command as much attention during the coming weeks and months as linebacker, the most important spot inside Tom Allen’s defense. Now, the IU coach’s mission is to identify the players capable of rising to accept the role.

“That’s the glaring position on defense,” Allen said. “A lot of question marks right now.”

Without Scales and Chris Covington, both of whom are now pursuing NFL careers after exhausting their eligibility this past fall, Indiana doesn’t return a single linebacker with starting experience.

That’s made the position a priority through the first four practices of the spring.

Allen often uses a megaphone to bark directions and critique drills during practice. Other times, he needs nothing more than his own gravelly voice.

Either way, the coach is never shy.

During IU’s final practice before spring break, Allen had no issue growling at linebacker Mo Burnam as the redshirt freshman completed drills.

There’s so much to teach right now, so much to learn, and Allen and his staff have wasted little time trying to get Hoosier linebackers in position to take on the job of leading the defense come the fall.

“I’m trying to build mental toughness in those guys, because if they can’t handle me, they won’t be able to handle Ohio State,” Allen said. “I want to be able to press those guys and make them feel the stress of running the defense because that’s what it takes to be a backer in our system.”

IU’s changes at the position have extended beyond the field, too.

In January, Allen took advantage of the NCAA’s new rule creating a 10th on-field coaching position by hiring former South Alabama defensive coordinator Kane Wommack as his new linebackers coach. In doing so, he shifted former linebackers coach William Inge to a newly-created special teams coaching role.

In another procedural move, Allen altered the way IU prepares players at the hybrid-safety Husky position. Rather than have Husky players such as Marcelino Ball meet with the safeties, they now study film and plan alongside the linebackers.

“The position is not changing at all,” Wommack said. “It’s still a 4-2-5 Husky in our defense, which is still a safety position. But there are some things where (Ball) is tied into our run fit, which helps him understand when he hears it from a linebacker perspective.”

Elsewhere in the linebacker room, Wommack is looking for impact players to emerge.

At the inside spot, Mike McGinnis and Thomas Allen, the son of IU’s coach, are “neck-and-neck” as they jostle for first-team attention.

With McGinnis limited due to a minor ankle injury, Allen stepped up in Indiana’s final practice before spring break to make some key plays in situational drills.

McGinnis, a 6-foot-2, 234-pound former junior college transfer, appeared in 11 games last season, posting seven tackles, including one for loss and a half-sack. Allen, a 6-foot-3, 237-pounder, redshirted as a freshman last fall.

“If I had to say the one thing that separates them from each other, Mike is doing probably a little bit better in some pass coverage type of stuff,” Wommack said. “Thomas has a little bit better feel in the run game right now.”

At the “Stinger” spot previously occupied by Scales, Indiana is evaluating Burnam and Reakwon Jones, a rising redshirt junior.

“Raekwon Jones has really kind of stepped up for me in communication and getting things set right, then bursting to the football,” Allen said. “Mo Burnam is growing.”

Others, too, will enter the mix when Indiana reconvenes for fall camp in August.

In December, IU signed high school linebackers Aaron Casey, Cam Jones and Micah McFadden. In February, the Hoosiers added one of the final players on their 2018 wish list, signing Florida linebacker James Miller. Former Rutgers running back commit Stevie Scott could also land at linebacker when he arrives on IU’s campus.

Finding the players who can execute within the defense is the primary objective for Allen and Wommack.

Perhaps just as important will be identifying the players able to lead, much like Scales and others did before.

“We have to play with a certain amount of swagger,” Wommack said. “We had two guys that walked out the door in Tegray Scales and Chris Covington that produced tremendously, but they also brought a tremendous amount of confidence to our defense. Not necessarily any one person is gonna do that, but collectively as a group we gotta bring some swagger.”


  1. LB is a question for this defense but I remember when Marcus Oliver left with his take-aways and Covington was a question to step in for his spot. I hope IU has LBs that can step in like Covington did in 2017. Scales is a tough one to replace because he played there for so long but athleticly they have LBs that can fit the bill. How well the DL plays will help detemine how well the LBs perform. Ball and Crawford will be able to make up for the LBs in some ways so it isn’t like the defense will sink or with the new LBs.

    How well the new LBs play will determine if the defense can continue playing at the level they have since coach Allen has been at IU. If the defense can play at that level then the offense improvement could propel this team back into a bowl in 2018.

  2. If the Indiana offensive is the same as last year (up-tempo), the lost of six to seven starters will really be a glaring problem. No way does many NCAA football team have enough talent/depth to replace six to seven starters. To replace two starters of Scales and Covington will be extremely hard for Indiana. These are two starters that played virtually every down for Indiana defensive this past year. Indiana also has to replace four starting defensive lineman, a cornerback and a safety. This would be a problem for any football program, but it will be a glaring problem for Indiana because Indiana does not have the depth (within the program) to replace this many starters. IMO, to build this program Indiana needs to start redshirting more freshman (i.e. – Madison Norris, Cam Jones, Michael Penix, Reese Taylor and many more) unless they can really contribute to the Indiana football program as a freshman.

  3. Will the optimistic outlook for IU fb ever end? Only to see it always among those wiping up the rear. Hahaha instead of crying. Redshirts, no redshirts it has been win anywhere from 0 to 6 and move on to the next fb season… And skip men’s basketball season because it is what it is…insignicant. Even K. Sampson has moved onto bigger and better things leaving the glory of old IU behind. As for watching college basketball coaches (and football coaches) on the sidelines just like the pros..I can’t help but seeing a bunch of sleaze balls all because of money, power and fame involved flying in all directions (just like in so many areas in our society as the wealth pyramid is turned on its side). Everyone who can wants a piece of the action and there are those who have it, and those who have had it for a long time. Great gigs if you can get one.

    1. t,
      I again agree with any assessment placing the blame for the woes of the basketball program over the last several years and the ongoing fiasco of a football program squarely at the foot of Hoosier nation. I would propose for thought, that this roots itself in the culture which IU has sought to foster for nearly a century. This being an import of foreign influence into the University as opposed using the academic experience to export American culture out to such areas. Nothing I say should be construed as bigoted in anyway, but rather just an honest observation.

      What else would explain the sustained success of the soccer program and the bicycling culture at IU? These are not uniquely American, but rather strongly rooted in many other countries around the world. It would most certainly explain the unevenness of the basketball program. Not to mention the outright abysmal failure of the football program. The hierarchy responsible for the athletic program is spawned the alumni and political structure supporting the university as a whole.

      If the pursuit of an athletic program featuring a uniquely American cultural sport such as football is not a priority to them, then current results become obvious. As for the basketball program historical success, one need look only the uniquely Hoosier influence to supersede other cultural influences, at least periodically. Not saying this is my position on the issue, but rather a provocative thought for discussion.

      1. I’m not offended by the suggestion that American sports at I.U. are a failure due to European influences in I.U.’s culture… and I don’t want to start an argument. I think you should try to back up such a claim with some evidence.
        First, there are plenty of schools that have both good soccer programs and good football programs. Clemson for example has an excellent soccer program and tradition. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe check the college soccer rankings:
        I really do not care to watch soccer but I am afraid the trend will be that parents being afraid of concussions will no longer allow their sons to play football, more and more kids will play soccer instead and become fans of the sport.
        Second, I don’t remember cycling being a really big deal until after “Breaking Away” in like, 1981? I.U.’s lack of sustained success in football goes way back long before maybe 10,000 people going to one bike race once a year. See for the details of I.U. football history.
        I’m confident that basketball and football are very, very important to the A.D. and the university. I would provide as evidence our football stadium. Have you seen it lately? Looks like they are dropping some serious cash on the place. The soccer stadium is OK but it would be hard to argue that soccer is a huge priority for the athletic department.
        I think the basketball fans and the culture around the program have been good considering the mixed success. The fans seem to keep coming back and not giving up on the team no matter what happens. Football fans at I.U. seem to value beer more than they like football. It’s not my place to judge others by what they do however, it breaks my heart for the players on the field to have the stadium empty out at halftime of a competitive football game. Yes, I understand fans are frustrated, but getting drunk before the game and bailing out on your team at halftime are not helping our team get better nor helping with recruiting. I like beer just as much as the next guy, but just not at an I.U. game. I’m there for every home game to support the players who are representing our school and our state.
        I’ve been a season ticket holder for the last 12 years and my dad took me to many I.U. basketball and football games when I was a young boy back in the 70’s. It comes down to how you measure success. Is an I.U. team only successful when they win the Big Ten and go to a major bowl? Or is the team successful when they play like they belong in the Big Ten and don’t get beat by MAC teams? I’m happy because I get to watch Big Ten football live just a few miles from my house.
        I don’t think anyone really knows what makes some programs successful and others a disappointment to their fans. Is it the coaches salary? Is it the amount of money the shoe companies pay the families of the players? Is it the geographical location of the university? Does it all come down to just recruiting the best athletes? Is it the size of the stadium? Are there cultural influences? How about the influence or lack of influence of Black culture on I.U.’s campus? Would we recruit and retain better athletes if I.U. were more black and less white?

  4. t, personally I am optimistic about life and realistic once events happen. I don’t go around being down thinking things are so bad. So if being optimistic about IUFB this time a year is bad then I will be bad. I understand we won’t really see what coach Allen and staff is like or can recruit like until they have four classes in [2018 was their first group as 2017 was the previous staff’s that Allen could hang on to]. Recruiting was improved in 2018 despite not making a bowl game which was a big improvement in my eyes. I expect the team to show more than incremental improvement no later than 2019 as they will have half the roster as their players.

  5. Every Indiana football fan/alum starts out optimistic at the beginning of football season, its been that way for 50 plus years. Just for once I would like to feel about Indiana football like the Indiana basketball fan felt doing the years of Robert Knight (1975 thru 1990) success. On average every three, four or five years Indiana hires a new football coach, with very little success. I would like for Indiana to hire a football coach that can make Indiana football competitive year in and year out, 7 or 8 wins on a consistent basis. Indiana football has been the laughing stock of the BIG ten for years. Do I want to believe that Tom Allen is the right hire, yes!! But, history says otherwise. So as a true Indiana football fan I cannot be optimistic about the upcoming year. I am realistic about Indiana football, when you missing eight starters from last years good defense, missing depth at wide receivers (two wide receivers returning from seasons ending injuries) and a starting quarterback that cannot get the football downfield (but fits the current IU offense). Am I hoping for a miracle, as a true IU football fan, YES. Will it happen – not realistically.

  6. Optimism is a relative term, especially when discussing IU Football. I’m optimistic that IU will win five games during the 2018 season. I’m optimistic that IU will be, for the most part, competitive against the Big Boys (i.e., competitive meaning no humiliating blow-out losses) because we have a defensive-minded head coach. I’m optimistic that IU Football’s best days are ahed of us and not behind us. And I’m optimistic that the 2019 team will be better than the 2018 team. But am I optimistic that IU will produce a winning record in 2018? No! To be that optimistic, I’d have to allow my heart to replace my brain. There is simply not enough evidence of significant improvement in recruiting over the last four years to suggest IU will have the talent necessary to produce a winning season? And historically, first-time head coaches take some time to go through the learning curve necessary to produce winning seasons. Purdue’s head coach has gone through that learning curve; Tom Allen has not. I really like Tom Allen. I really want him to succeed. But there is no evidence that he possesses the reputation, experience or ability necessary to create a massive upgrade in the quality of talent he needs to recruit to IU in order to produce a winning season. Yes, there is evidence to suggest that allen has improved recruiting at IU. But is that improvement enough to alter the scales? Not yet!

    The bottom line is that either Fred Glass or IU’s administration is too cheap to spend the money necessary to hire a head coach who could turn the football program around in less than three years. Glass is comfortable taking the longer, less expensive road to achieving that objective. But the problem is, when you deploy that low-cost, organic strategy, the window of opportunity for that unproven head coach lasts about three years. And after three years of failing to produce a winning season, the gleam begins toward off and recruiting begins to decline, again! And then the hole that the program is in gets a little deeper, and it is more likely that the cycle will start all over again.

    Ultimately, it’s the Hoosier Nation that is to blame for IU’s unsuccessful football program. Because we tolerate losing seasons year after year after year. Fred Glass does not fear losing his job if IU does not produce a winning football season! I don’t believe any IU AD in history has ever feared losing his job because of IU football’s performance. Now, if we’re talking basketball, that’s a different matter entirely. Hence the disparity between head-coaching compensation packages. Basketball is sacred to the Hoosier Nation. Simply put, IU Football is not. And Fred Glass knows it.

  7. Po, You certainly have hit the nail on the head about IU towards football although I am not sure it is about saving money. Until the Colts came to Indy and the class football play-off came, the state of Indiana was all about basketball with the exception of a few hot spots. We will see if coach Allen’s love for IUFB and his connection with Indiana FB will be strong enough to change IU’s football program against the football power programs in the B1G. I think he has the vision and approach to get the job done but only time will tell. He and his staff have to overcome the historical feeling about IUFB and going up against the long standing football powers of the B1G East and the rest of the B1G.

    1. V13,
      I pretty much agree with most sentiments in this area and HC’s recruiting against ND is also correct. Which is why I think we will continue to see TA and staff recruiting the southern football hotbeds. They do not have quite the historical hill to climb and many smaller southern schools have successfully used a similar tactic in recruiting. They are not trying to recruit starters from the major southern programs but the bench and those passed over.

      The approach is would you rather be a 3rd stringer as a high 3 or 4 star or start for IU? Most of the southern kids are not as familiar with IU’s historical failures as Midwestern kids would be. They also know they will be sitting behind the 5 stars for at least a couple years or more and may never start. At IU your still at a Power 5 conference and will get some national exposure, even if not playing for national championships.

      As with any IU head FB coach of the past 130 or so years, it will still take a lot of good fortune to just get competitive for at least a year or two. No one is expecting national championships or even B1G championships, just respectability. For the kids it is an opportunity to start sooner rather than later. Who knows, it may lead to Pro opportunities or a least an improved program. At IU, only a couple more wins a year on average would be a minor miracle.

  8. thinker, I disagree that southern lads’ ignorance of IUFB’s woeful history matters much, EVERYONE knows that IUFB stinks. But you are right that some recognize that the chance to play is better on a stinky team than a five-star laden team. But that sales pitch has been available forever for IUFB; the question is whether it’s converting prospects now. IF Allen can sell that, and IF he can then develop whatever talent that buys it, THEN that will be the miracle we’re all hoping for. As to optimism here on the Scoop, we ALL are optimists, even the self-proclaimed realists. What other personality type would bother to post about IUFB? OK, the masochist, but let’s not go there . . . .

    1. Having lived most of my life in the South I can assure you that southern high school football players for the most part don’t know squat about Indiana football. Most of them couldn’t find Indiana on a map. Indiana’s football failings are local news (‘local’ meaning the midwest).

      Their interest is in what the program can do for them, will their games be televised, how cold does it get, and how many players have made it to the pros.

      There are plenty of players who will be happy just to get out of Mississippi.

      1. Chet,

        Not to mention you and I can probably think of about 3 of the greatest to every play the game at their respective positions who came out of that little state of Mississippi. However, all three played their college ball at small Mississippi schools before hitting superstar status at the next level. For those who don’t know: Walter Payton – Jackson State, Bret Farve – Southern Mississippi, Jerry Rice – Mississippi Valley. There are a lot more players coming out of Mississippi and other southern states who could change the IU trajectory if properly recruited.

        Anyone think it was an accident the new LB coach was the son the University of Mississippi’s retired DC? TA coached there and knows the area well, as does this young man. Year end and year out per capita, no state puts more players into the NFL than Mississippi. Think TA and crew won’t be hitting those back roads they know very well? Yes, in the southern states the SEC teams pull the headliners, but are a ton of great players below the surface if you know where to look. Most of these kids have no clue about IU football history.

          1. Try the west side of Chicago, Chet. Poor AND violent. Arrests are made in less than 1/20 of all non-fatal shooting cases. So if the “only” thing that happened to the victim is a lost kidney, permanent blindness, etc., forget about any justice being done. The stats for fatal shootings are only somewhat better; about 17% result in arrests, and of course even fewer prosecuted or convicted. If you want to get away with murder, the west side is the place.

          2. There are different kinds of atrocities. The people in west Chicago could probably be seen by a doctor if push came to shove. Good luck with that in rural Mississippi.

        1. You are absolutely right about players that were only recruited by small colleges making it big in the NFL and our staff recruits the South with a lot of experience in the area. I am optimisitic they those guys to IU and helps make IU a very good FB school. Just look at Whop and see how quickly they get to the field. With the way Wilson’s staff has sent OL, RB, and WR to the NFL those players know they can get to the NFL at IU. Add in the players that weren’t on the radar screen until Coach Allen got here and not getting looks from the NFL they have reason to believe O and D players can get to the NFL.

  9. You have a point, Chet. Long, long lines at County Hospital ER room (for a lot of non-emergencies) but no one turned away, at least not for an initial diagnosis and basic treatment. Superb trauma department, though, and no waiting if that’s what’s bothering you (although the long ambulance ride could be a killer. Literally.) Fear of getting shot, fear of getting sick, no way to live.

  10. Message received, brother. One of the hairiest times I had when I was a fireman was in the back of an ambo w/the medics and a gunshot victim; the police left the scene to chase the shooter who had apparently circled around to finish off the victim. The mob started to rock the ambo and in our rigs there was no way to get from the gurney to the cab without going outside. Fortunately more police showed up in time. For my momey, you can’t find cooler under pressure than medics on a working ambulance company.

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