IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’d be understandable if Amani Jones was feeling some pressure. After all, he’s replacing arguably the greatest middle linebacker in program history.
The Iowa junior doesn’t view it that way, however. He sees himself as a part of a group replacing the three starters at the position. It’s going to take teamwork and chemistry answer the Hawkeyes’ biggest offseason question mark.
That’s a good approach when following consensus all-American Josey Jewell at such an important spot in a historically strong defense. Physically, Jones (6-0, 238) is ready after two seasons starring on special teams. He’s strong and fast.
The offseason growth has come in hours of film room work, learning the ins and outs of the defense, not only for his position, but those around him. He’s done so with fellow projected first-year starters Nick Niemann and Kristian Welch.
Jones doesn’t believe he needs to be the face of the defense in stepping in for Jewell. He sees the three new linebackers complementing each other. They need to play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“There is no more “the guy” at the linebacker spot. We have to come together. We haven’t played that many snaps. It has to be the unit. If I can’t make the tackle, I have to put the trust in Kristian Welch or Nick Niemann that they can come and make the tackle for me. If I need to shed a block, they can be right there in the hole next to me,” Jones said.
They watched the last two seasons as Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann, Nick’s brother, absorbed the vast majority of reps on the second level of the defense. Fifth-year senior Aaron Mends was expected to provide experience there before tearing his ACL in the spring.
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Heading into the offseason, Mends and Jones were competing for the WIL with Welch in the middle. With Mends being hurt, the coaches shuffled Jones to MLB and tried Welch at WIL. Niemann was locked into LEO.
“I guess it kind of worked out a little bit better. I do feel more natural in the middle. When I moved to middle, (the coaches) told me that it fit me better. They can’t run from me,” Jones said.
Jewell’s teachings aid him as he’s learning the position. Jones is becoming more comfortable playing it by watching his predecessor on film. And even though he understands this group of linebackers will succeed as a unit, he’s aware of his responsibility in it.
“The middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. So, if I don’t get it right, we’re not playing right. I really have been taking on the role,” he said.
As of last week, Jones already had viewed half of Northern Illinois’ last season on film. The Huskies come to Kinnick Stadium for this year’s opener on Sept. 1.
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“I’m really in the film right now learning more of the defense,” he said. “The coaches’ know my weaknesses and help me. The more trust I earn the more they’ll put the playbook in my hands.”
Hear more from Jones in this HN TV video interview: