Hoosiers looking for certain kinds of linebackers this month

Kane Wommack wanted to see two types of players emerge this month.

The Indiana linebackers coach calls them playmakers and steadymakers.

Wommack, in his first season at IU, wants linebackers who embody coach Tom Allen’s call for more takeaways. He also wants reliable linebackers who can both lead the defense and help provide depth that spreads snaps among the group.

“All production is going to have to come as a committee,” Wommack said. “I think we do have a nice blend.”

That blend has grown since Wommack, the 31-year-old former South Alabama defensive coordinator, received his first look at IU’s linebackers this spring.

Dameon Willis, who went through Senior Day activities and planned to step away after last season, has returned. Georgia Tech transfer T.D. Roof, who participated in spring practice but was expected to sit out the season due to transfer rules, was granted a waiver last month and is now eligible.

For Wommack, both Willis, a Mike — or middle — linebacker, and Roof, a Stinger linebacker, are playmakers. Generally speaking, the Stinger functions as a quicker outside linebacker capable of playing in space. Reakwon Jones, a frontrunner for the starting Stinger job formerly held by Tegray Scales, is both a steady presence and a playmaker.

Others, too, have flashed signs that they’re capable of giving Wommack what he wants at linebacker, one of IU’s biggest positional question marks on defense. Thomas Allen has been praised for his preparedness at the Mike spot, while true freshman Micah McFadden has recently surfaced as someone forcing his way onto the field this fall.

Wommack says McFadden, one of IU’s biggest surprises this month, has been IU’s most consistent linebacker at producing forced fumbles, while Marcelino Ball, a Husky hybrid backer, is the group’s leader in interceptions.

During Wednesday morning’s practice, McFadden illustrated his penchant for takeaways, stripping the ball from running back Craig Nelson during a tackle along the sideline.

McFadden has worked at both Mike and Stinger this month, and Wommack sees him challenging for playing time behind Willis.

“When you talk about playmakers, there’s guys that just naturally have a knack for the ball, putting people on the ground, getting the ball out,” Wommack said. “Without question, Micah McFadden is one of those people.”

While the quarterback battle rightfully took the focus of fall camp, another battle was playing out at Mike linebacker between McFadden, Allen and Willis. The latter has the most experience in Allen’s defense, having played 22 games for the coach since Allen arrived as defensive coordinator in 2016.

But after Willis stepped away after last season and missed spring ball, he had to earn back his role this month. Allen says that’s exactly what happened.

“I think Dameon Willis has risen up and become the lead guy for that spot,” Allen said.
Next to Willis, Jones, a junior, brings additional experience within the system. In April, Allen called him one of the most impressive players during spring practice.

Although Jones missed approximately a week’s worth of practices due to injury during the middle of camp, his absence opened the door for others to surface as options.

“T.D. got a ton of reps,” Wommack said. “I think during that time, we found out what Micah McFadden really was when he took a bunch of reps with the twos. Then we realized James Miller, who was playing Stinger, is going to be a very good player for the future. For roster management issues, if we can, we’d like to hold a couple of those kids back and redshirt.”

Of course, with the new redshirt rule, Wommack and the rest of IU’s position coaches will have some flexibility with the newcomers. As long as a player appears in no more than four games, he may keep his redshirt and his extra year of eligibility.

“James Miller would be a person that we would obviously have in that role,” Wommack said. “Is he a four-game guy? Do we play him a little bit more than that? I think time will tell. The thing that’s hard about the four-game rule is do you play them early, or do you use those four games as a precursor to spring ball? Or maybe you need them somewhere in the middle or all that stuff. Then of course, on the outside, Cam Jones will play this season.”

Jones is working behind Ball at Husky, where the latter is back from a season-ending injury and entrenched as a key part of the defense. During the spring, Ball and the rest of the hybrid backers were grouped with the linebackers after having worked and trained with defensive backs in recent seasons.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Wommack said, “in the spring time, I was hard on Lino. Lino was finding himself again as a football player and really there was a little bit of give-and-take between the two of us in the spring time. We had some good conversations and we got to know each other a little bit better. I think time heals a lot of things and going through this summer he was so detailed in what he did in the summer, just matter-of-fact about his business. I could not be more excited about Marcelino Ball right now.”

2 comments

  1. I just want LBs that make plays and don’t miss tackles. I think it is good to have a group of LBs so that you get rested LBs in the game against offensive players that are tired. After losing Scales and Covington it will be interesting to see how the LBs do this year. I like the freshman LBs and Husky but it would be a step back if they are in a lot of snaps on the field. The older LBs need to step up and make it tough for the younger ones to get on the field.

    It sounds like coach Wommack is excited about the LB group but we will have to wait and see how they perform especially when the B1G seasons starts.

  2. First, don’t be easy to block. Linebackers can’t afford to get entangled with O-linemen four yards off the lOS. Don’t miss tackles. Not every tackle has to be a highlight real hit, but don’t “reach” and don’t whiff! At least slow the ball-carrier down so your teammates can finish off the tackle. Third, produce take-aways (INTs and strips). If IU’s linebackers can just do those things reasonably well, we’ll be O.K. Sounds easy, but we all know it’s not.

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