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2016 Indiana football preview: Linebackers

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Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver lead a solid, veteran position group. How will the change to the 4-2-5 affect their play?

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

Indiana comes into this season with both depth and experience at the linebacker position. The veteran presence of this position group should come in handy, as IU adjusts to the new defensive system. Though Tom Allen is new this season as the DC, linebackers coach William Inge has been a steady presence at IU since Kevin Wilson arrived in Bloomington, so continuity has been a major factor in this position.

The implementation of the 4-2-5 could be a learning curve for the Hoosiers, but ultimately this nickel defense format is designed to help stop up-tempo offenses. And it just so happens that IU is installing this defense right when a lot of Big Ten East teams are going to a more up-tempo spread format. Ohio State is already doing so, while Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers have all brought in new OCs who also want to put up all the points and spread the offense out. This great piece from a couple years ago explains how Gary Patterson effectively uses the 4-2-5 at TCU to help counter those Big 12 spread offenses that love to put up a ton of points. Here’s how it works:

Thus, despite losing two linebackers in its main defensive format, IU seems to be switching to the 4-2-5 at the right time.

Names to know

Tegray Scales

Scales is the most exciting player to watch on the Indiana defense, and has been pretty much since the moment he first stepped onto the field in 2014. Last season, he had 3 sacks and 2 INTs despite only playing in 11 of Indiana’s 13 games. A true freshman All-American two years ago, Scales has the chance to really break through in his junior year, and his aggressiveness could aid him in this opportunistic defensive scheme.

Marcus Oliver

Last season, Oliver was a All-B1G honorable mention, as he recorded 112 tackles on the year and started all 13 games. While Scales might be seen as the playmaker, Oliver is the anchor of the middle of the defense, and the redshirt junior was named IU defensive player of the week six times last season. He’ll find a way to the ball, no matter what.

Oliver and Scales both hail from the CIncinnati area, which makes the IU group the official linebackers of Harambe, the beloved ape who has been the subject of all your favorite memes this summer and also the reason why the CIncinnati Zoo literally had to delete its Twitter account.

T.J. Simmons and Clyde Newton

The linebackers will have senior leadership from both Simmons, who leads all current Hoosiers with 213 total tackles in his career; and Newton, who not only has a great football name but also tripled his amount of tackles last season after struggling in 2014.

Chris Covington

Remember Covington? He played one half at quarterback in 2014 against Iowa in relief for Nate Sudfeld, but tore his ACL in the process, because the Most Indiana Football Thing Ever is for both your starters to suffer season-ending injuries in the same game. Luckily, Covington returned to the field last year and seems to have found a home on the defense, as he played eight games at linebacker in 2015.

Dawson Fletcher

Fletcher is a fifth-year senior, and could spend time either at linebacker or safety, depending on how Allen’s scheme takes root. He played sparingly his first two seasons before redshirting in 2014, but appeared in every game last season for the Hoosiers.

Conclusion

Indiana’s linebackers may face challenges for playing time, since they are going from the 3-4 to the 4-2-5 on defense. However, there is enough talent, athleticism, and experience in this group that the position should be a strength of the defense this year.