Renewed depth at LB easing Allen’s concern

CHICAGO — In April, Tom Allen was concerned.

The most important position within his Indiana defense was experiencing a transitional phase, one that left the Hoosiers without experienced, proven players at linebacker. As a man that has spent more than a quarter century building, developing and dissecting defenses, Allen has developed a mantra for his particular bailiwick — he’s never seen a great defense without great linebackers.

Now, with the start of fall camp mere days away, what was once an area of concern for IU’s second-year coach is a source of excitement.

Replenished depth inside the Indiana linebacking corps gives Allen confidence that his upstart Hoosier defense can keep pace with the last two seasons’ worth of success.

Since graduating Tegray Scales and Chris Covington at the end of the 2017 campaign, Allen has padded the ranks of the linebacker position. This spring, Allen was heartened to learn that Dameon Willis, who went through Senior Day festivities in November, had a change of plans and wished to return for his fifth and final year at IU.

Then, last week, Allen learned that Georgia Tech transfer T.D. Roof, a sophomore who joined the program in January, had been granted a legislative relief waiver by the NCAA, making him immediately eligible for the 2018 season.

“I got to admit,” Allen said, “I was jumping up and down and screaming.”

For an Indiana program facing several questions on both sides of the ball in 2018, particularly whether it can run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense, Allen feels the Hoosiers are closer to potentially answering whether it can accomplish the latter.

“Those two individuals have dramatically changed that room in a positive way,” Allen said. “Obviously, you come out of spring football, I stated it was one of our biggest areas of need and concern just because of lack of experience. We got a lot of good young players that competed really well this spring, but they just haven’t played.

“When you bring in two young men that — Dameon is our most experienced linebacker coming back from 2017. Getting him back was huge. And now having T.D., he played all season last year on special teams (for the Yellow Jackets). Since he was already here in practice in the spring, we know what he can do.”

Between them, Scales and Covington combined for 174 tackles last season, anchoring a defense that finished No. 27 nationally in total defense and No. 26 in defensive S&P+, an advanced analytics measurement.

Willis’ return gives IU a clear replacement for Covington in the middle, where redshirt freshman Thomas Allen and former junior college transfer Mike McGinnis battled during spring practice.

A 6-foot-1, 224-pound Cleveland native, Willis played in 10 games and earned starts against Michigan and Michigan State last fall. He finished the season with 27 tackles, including a career-high seven against the Spartans.

His potential for increased production this fall, along with his knowledge of Allen’s defense, represent significant boosts for IU. So, too, does his ability to provide the Hoosiers with a veteran presence in the linebackers room and on the practice field.

“We had all the players over our home the last couple weeks at different intervals and different groups,” Allen said. “When he was there with the linebackers, you could just tell he has that personality. They follow him. He’s a tremendous leader and he’s played.”

Roof has been on Allen’s radar since he was a high school prospect in Buford, Ga. The son of former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who left for a similar role at North Carolina State in December, T.D. Roof played in 11 games for the Yellow Jackets as a true freshman in 2017.

He participated in IU’s spring practice, with plans of actively joining the Hoosiers’ defense in 2019. But after receiving a legislative transfer waiver, which is typically awarded after it is demonstrated that a transfer took place out of hardship or for a reason beyond football, Roof is set to pad IU’s depth this fall.

“We made an appeal,” Allen said. “There’s an appeal process you go through and we felt like we had a good case for him. So we made the appeal and our compliance office did a tremendous job of being thorough. One thing I will say is Georgia Tech cooperated as well. They did what was best for a young man. I just think it’s a great decision for him (and) it’s great for us.”

IU’s summer additions come after Allen was particularly pleased with the tenacity demonstrated this spring by stinger Reakwon Jones, who is aiming to fill the void left by Scales’ graduation.

“Reakwon Jones had a great spring,” Allen said. “He was our most improved player, most improved in the weight room. Changed his body. He bought into everything that we’ve really challenged him to do leadership-wise and was really, really impressed with him.”

Those players are complemented by a freshman class that includes four new players at the position.

For an IU defense looking to keep pace with a new standard, the linebacker position has quickly shifted from a concern to a unit dealing in strength in numbers.

“It definitely helps us out,” defensive lineman Jacob Robinson said. “That’s a position where we lacked some experience and depth, as well.”

15 comments

  1. It’s good and significantly helpful. However, the very dependence on this situation indicates a lack of depth and ability (talent) level.

  2. Lots of teams cover a position in lots of different ways. This is the way IU has deepened the linebacker position. Other circumstances have also helped strengthen the LB position. Having Ball back is 1. Also DL will be deeper and stronger this season. The Syracuse transfer Kayton Samuels started all 12 games at NT when he was a RS Frosh. Now add depth and experience of the DB’s. + a LB from depth yet seen no doubt will rise. I think LB will be respectable relevant to the B1G.

  3. HC good analysis on how the LB depth has been helped. Roof has playing experience while playing as a freshman at GT. He is a coach’s kid which often means the player has good knowledge about football helping them play at a high level. The incoming class has more LBs than usual to help alleviate the shortage of LBs. Coaches are working hard to balance out the roster that was in serious need of being balanced out. We will have to see if the freshman LBs can help out in the rotation. Every team in the B1G uses freshmen at key positions so it is a matter if IU’s are talented enough to get playing time.

    IU’s defensive coaches have shown they can put a good defense on the field and I don’t doubt they will show that once again this season. If they do get the defense back to the level it has been the past two years and the offense improves to the level it seems they can improve this year could be a surprise winning season.

    1. I really hate the criticism of the previous coaching staff for not having a balanced roster. Why? the previous coaching staff started from ground zero with IU football…..In Kevin Wilson first year most of the players left the team are was dismissed from the team. His first recruiting (24 recruits) was a mixture of 2 and 3 stars recruits from Indiana and Ohio, which 5 or vying for NFL teams at the present time. The second recruiting class had 29 recruits of which 4 players (Nate Sudfeld 4*, Jason Spriggs 3*, Dan Feeney 3* and Tevin Coleman 3*) are in the NFL. Again another recruiting class of mostly 2* and 3* athletic. Yet Kevin Wilson and his staff had the ability to assign (some) players to their best fit positions for their careers. So IMO Kevin Wilson took Indiana University football roster (player development) from a MAC (mid-level) roster to a BIG 10 roster. Maybe Kevin Wilson roster did not meet some standards (balance), but his recruits (players development) are still getting drafted (Chris Covington, Ian Thomas) by the NFL. Whether we like to admit it or not Kevin Wilson last few teams where very competitive on the field , an that roster gave Tom Allen the feeling or belief that he could produce a “BREAKTHROUGH” seasons. So now if we have a balance roster this year and we have depth this year, maybe the breakthrough does not come this year, but next year is no excuses.

      1. The comments about the roster imbalance is about positions that didn’t have recruits in certain years. Look at QB, Wilson had to go the JC route to have a viable QB in 2016. At the time we had a 3 star soph QB that wasn’t panning out and a freshman 2 star QB. Where were the sr and jr QBs? The OL had no recruits in two classes and our LBs are lacking in JR and SR classes with just one player in each. No one is saying coach Wilson and staff didn’t do a good job in developing talent for the team or that he didn’t raise IU’s level in the B1G. You have to ignore his last two classes to not see the problems cropping up in the roster. The need for grad transfers this year was to address some of the shortcomings in the roster. I agree with you that 2019 needs to be the breakthrough if it is going to happen but it may happen a year sooner.

        1. Roster imbalances happen because Cameron Coffman and Tre Roberson decide to transfer. Wilson recruited Zander Diamont and Danny Cameron in 2014, probably not the best QB’s in the world but at least he signed a QB in the class. Then in 2015 IU signed Austin King, again maybe not a BIG 10 quarterback, but he recruited a quarterback. Then in 2016 IU recruited Richard Lagow and Peyton Ramsey again, now we know they where not the best quarterbacks….But to say he left the roster short is a mistake, Wilson (IU football program history) just did not get the recruits need to keep up the caliber of quarterbacks to play in the BIG10. For the fun of it, when Dawkins graduate next year, if Penix decide to transfer I and this staff is screwed. As far has the O-line is concern, Wilson recruited one O-lineman every year – 2011 (Ralston Evans, Peyton Eckert and David Kaminsk), 2012 (Wes Rogers, Dimitic Camiel, Dan Feeney, Jacob Bailey and Jason Spriggs), 2013 (Maurice Swan Jr), 2014 (DeAndre Herron, Timothy Gardner, Wes Martin and Delroy Baker) and 2015 ( Simon Stepaniak, Brandon Knight, Hunter Littlejohn, DaVondre Love and Nick Ramaca). Maybe some of these lineman careers where cut short due to injuries, maybe they transferred and maybe they where dismissed from the team. Kevin Wilson left this rosters if fairly good condition. Maybe not in Alabama or Ohio State roster condition, but in normal conditions for a 5th to 6th place team in the BIG 10 East division.

          1. IU79 you are so correct. Because I refrain from long(winded)posts yours lists near every detail justifying Wilson’s roster needs recruiting was solid. I would add only a couple of others; Wilson’s last 3 years really started focusing on D improvement. Also as far as LB #’s I know of 3 recruited who during their maturation and development ended up as DL. Much negative remarks about Wilson comes from not favoring his abrasive exterior. I on the other hand embraced it, found it necessary and a paramount need that changed the soft underbelly culture that was IUFB. His HCing prowess can be questioned but it is irrefutable he indeed overturned the culture and left Coach Allen many x’s more talent than he found 6 years before. There is no question.

  4. Did anyone else hear Glenn Mason’s absolutely negative remarks on BTN right after Coach Allen’s presentation at the B1G FB kickoff. Total disdain, no respect and left an impression of personal feelings in place of professional opinion. I’m seldom caught off guard but Mason’s remarks did.

  5. I don’t think there is any question that Wilson significantly upgraded recruiting at IU. Ironically, the only criticism I had of Wilson’s recruiting was for the position of Quarterback. He came into the IU job with a reputation as being a QB “guru.” He never lived up to that reputation at IU and in fact, did not recruit quality QBs to Bloomington. What was worse was that two former starting QBs transferred with a year of eligibility left, throwing the QB room into total chaos. Remember, Wilson did not recruit Tre Roberson or Sudfeld to IU. Roberson was recruited before Wilson accepted the job and Sudfeld followed the former Arizona O.C. to IU after AZ hired RichRod. But that aside, Wilson deserves credit for upgrading the level of talent, the mental and physical toughness of the players and the overall performance of IU Football. As for roster imbalances, any time you have a major coaching changes, recruits are going to slip through the cracks and imbalances are going to occur. But T.A. has done a great job filling those gaps with Graduate Transfers. I hope he continues to enhance the depth and talent on the roster with Graduate Transfers for as long as he is IU’s head coach. That tactic seems like a no-brainer!

    HC, I searched for the commentary Glenn Mason made during the BTN’s coverage of the Big Ten Football kickoff, but could not find anything. Can you paraphrase what he said? Any indication why he was so negative?

    1. He stated other coaches mentioned 2-3 things they needed to get fixed for their team to improve. Brazenly insinuated so much wrong in Bloomington that Coach Allen had no idea where to begin. He clearly made apparent to me why he is no longer even a candidate for HC anywhere. I had to find a rerun on the BTN of the 2nd day(when Allen spoke)of the B1G kickoff. His idiot comments were immediately following.

      1. By the way Allen expressed in articulate fashion the areas needing improvement. Areas which were confirmed after his off season in depth evaluation. Plain as day Mason was watching a soap opera instead.

  6. HC, I agree with you totally Wilson did have an abrasive exterior and it had a tendency to rub fans, players, management, press and recruits the wrong way. But overall, Wilson was a good coach for Indiana University. As you stated he upgraded the level of talent and brought a mental and physical toughness to the players and team.
    Podunker, you are correct also.

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