Seth Wallace Pleased with Growth at Linebacker

December 12, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Coming into the 2018 season, a lot of attention was paid to an inexperienced linebacker group. The Hawkeyes were replacing three starters, including NFL talent in Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann.

While there were some growing pains, the group performed pretty well. It helped the defense rank first in the Big Ten in scoring (17.4), which was good for 11th nationally.

“I don’t want to say that we over-performed at that position, but I do think that from an expectation standpoint, especially with the injuries and the different starting lineup, and just the mix and match, there were some real positive things that have given us a jump start heading into the next year,” linebacker coach Seth Wallace said Wednesday here at the football performance center.

The Hawkeyes, who play Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, will return all of the unit outside of senior Jack Hockaday, who started eight games at middle linebacker. Djimon Colbert (nine starts), Kristian Welch (six) and Nick Niemann (five) come back after gaining valuable experience this fall.

Iowa started five different linebacker combinations in ’18. The inexperience and injuries opened the door to bring strong safety Amani Hooker down into the box. It worked well against the trending offenses that spread out defenses and are looking for plays in space. Hooker was named the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year and a second-team AP all-American.

For a team that has played mostly base 4-3 for its 20 years under head coach Kirk Ferentz, playing five defensive backs opened eyes. Some of them were in the football building.

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“It certainly has provided us with a different perspective. Conversations continue to exist as to how we shape this thing moving forward, how that changes our personnel, how it affects recruiting. Those are all questions that we continue to develop answers to,” Wallace said.

The Hawkeyes went through August camp thinking Amani Jones would be the team’s starting middle linebacker. He won the job in the spring and continued producing in practice. When Iowa opened the season against Northern Illinois, the junior looked out of place and was pulled during the second defensive series.

To Jones’ credit, he stayed engaged and was one of the most valuable members of the special teams. He maintained a good attitude, which Wallace appreciated.

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“The situation obviously was not ideal, not necessarily something that we predicted, but it was something we had to go through, something I had to go through from a coaching standpoint,” Wallace said. “It was very hard because Amani is one of our hardest workers. He’s a Hawkeye through and through.

“The one thing to speak to his character is the way that he did handle it. He was still an exceptional special teams player for us. He was unbelievable on the sideline, very supportive of his teammates even after he lost that starting role. I tip the hat to him and what he’s done.”

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Jones likely will be in the mix for playing time again next year as Iowa sorts through a lot of options. It will have four linebackers in the ’18 recruiting class competing as well.

You can watch Wallace talk about some of those guys that red shirted this season and also more of his thoughts on the position as a whole in this HN TV video:

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