IU’s Jones leading young defense

Throughout defensive meetings this season, Indiana linebacker Reakwon Jones has found himself asking a lot of questions.

Questions he already has the answers to.

Jones, in his fourth year in the Hoosiers’ 4-2-5 defense, knows what his checks should be, or what he’s reading at the snap. But as the lone senior in the Hoosiers’ linebacker room, the questions aren’t for him.

As a veteran leader, he knows it helps players to hear certain things from another player’s mouth. Other times, it’s best to let the coach hammer a point home.

“I know we got younger guys like Cam (Jones), like Micah (McFadden), like James Miller and Aaron Casey. They might know it, but they might not know it, know it,” Jones said. “I’ll pose a question so he can reiterate it to them, so I’m not the only one reiterating it to them.”

Ever since a season-ending injury to redshirt sophomore Thomas Allen at Nebraska, Jones has been the only linebacker on the depth chart with more than two years of experience. He’s one of the more recognizable faces of an especially small senior class, the glue holding together what’s mostly a young, developing squad.

IU’s particularly young defense has had its ups and downs. In wins over Eastern Illinois, UConn, Rutgers, and Northwestern, the Hoosiers have surrendered six combined points. Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland, and Nebraska each surpassed 28 points.

The good news is the Hoosier defense was able to close out the latter two games, on the road, in crunch time. But there is still room to grow as IU heads to No. 9 Penn State.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best football defensively,” defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said. “That is the challenge for us and that’s what we need to do. Good defenses get better and better and better as seasons go on, to where if you get in this last stretch, the great defenses shine through and we have yet to show that.”

The average of the defense’s highlights and lowlights have led to some notable national rankings, including 18th in total defense, 11th versus the pass and 16th on third downs.

Through the good and the bad, Jones, who is second on the team with 41 tackles, has been a constant voice.

In every postgame celebration video IU coach Tom Allen posts on his social media, Jones always seems to be front and center, within inches of his coach’s face, responding to every word with a yell or a silent-but-enthusiastic head nod. During Allen’s post-Northwestern speech, after the Hoosiers improved to 7-2, Jones threw up four fingers.

“Foh mo!” Jones declared, turning to his teammates as he continued to shout. “Foh mo! Foh mo!”

At the lowest point of the season, after a 51-10 loss to Ohio State, IU’s goals remained the same, and Jones was unfazed. He stood in front of the media and said he’d take the loss “on the chin like a man” and fix what was broken.

Penn State this Saturday is the first of four games, including a bowl, the Hoosiers are expecting to win.

“Our goal is to finish this regular season 10-2 and that’s been our goal since our second loss,” Jones said. “We are going to try to finish this thing 10-2. That’s the mission.”

Jones’ collegiate career has been a rollercoaster ride. When he arrived as a freshman, the Hoosiers went on to barely clinch a bowl berth and lost to Duke on an overtime field goal. After another six wins and a bowl loss, IU would go on to miss the postseason entirely the next two years.

Jones has seen more than the average Hoosier. There are just 13 seniors on this team, or 11.7 percent of the roster. Just nine are of the fifth-year variety, which gives Jones a unique perspective on all that has changed.

And it’s the people, mainly.

“Getting the right guys in here, first off. That’s probably the most important thing,” Jones said. “Everybody trusts each other on the field, off the field. We hang out together. It’s a real close team, which creates this bond we have and stuff like that. We just take that onto the field and we play hard for each other, every rep.”

Jones, who stepped into the shoes of star linebacker alum Tegray Scales just last year, tries to be supportive of the younger pieces around him.

In the film room, it’s asking questions he doesn’t need to ask. On the practice field, Jones isn’t the most confrontational guy, but he pulls teammates aside whenever he needs to hold someone accountable.

“I’ll talk to them about ‘We gotta go, we gotta pick it up,’ something like that. ‘You are better than that,’ kind of motivating them and letting them know we have to get better today,” Jones said. “I don’t want anyone to think ‘Ah, Kwon is trying to embarrass me.’ I ain’t that type of dude.”

Luckily, the Lynn Haven, Fla., native hasn’t found himself needing to say much. His older teammates seem focused. The younger ones have been motivated from Day 1.

One of the stars of that group has been another Florida guy, freshman cornerback Tiawan Mullen, who coined the term “the new wave” to describe the 2019 class.

“When (Allen) was recruiting me, he was like ‘We have the guys, we are just missing a few players to accomplish our goals,’” Mullen said. “I feel like the 2019 class, we helped fill in the gaps, and as everybody can see, we them dogs.”

Mullen, one of 80 freshmen and sophomores on this roster, will have more Penn State games than just this one to propel the Hoosier program forward. But despite the IU’s youth, there is an urgency.

They want four more wins, for themselves and seniors like Jones.

“All of them want to be the reason why,” Jones said. “They ask tons of questions. They just try to improve every day. They try to compete every day. And that’s what makes them so special.

“We just got the right guys in here, from young guys to old guys, the right mix of guys, that mesh well together and want to change the narrative of how Indiana football is viewed.”

One comment

  1. “We just got the right guys in here, from young guys to old guys, the right mix of guys, that mesh well together and want to change the narrative of how Indiana football is viewed.” This quote from explains why IU is 7-2 and why they get better each week. If the guys keep this up they could have the best season IU has seen in decades.

    I hope the 2020 class has has players as hungry as the players on this team. 2021 could be an even better rated class with the season IU is having. I hope the 2021 class brings in very fast play makers along with OL/DL men with speed, good feet, and toughness. Keep the future of IU looking up.

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