Iowa Football

Iowa football position preview: Amani Jones excited to contribute as hybrid linebacker

After losing middle linebacker job, he's eager to see the field again

Iowa defensive end Amani Jones (52) finds some shade during the 2019 University of Iowa Football Media Day in Iowa City on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa defensive end Amani Jones (52) finds some shade during the 2019 University of Iowa Football Media Day in Iowa City on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — He began last season as the top middle linebacker.

But it took not even one full game before Amani Jones lost his job. Permanently.

An over-eagerness that you sometimes see from first-year starters put him out of position on plays and out of the lineup. The senior from Chicago’s Phillips High School was back to being mostly a special teams guy, which is where he’d made his mark as a true freshman and sophomore.

“I’d have to say I lost my (confidence), but I don’t think I lost any pride in myself,” Jones said. “I know what I can do. It most definitely tested my mental state of mind. But, other than that, everything remained the same. You’ve just got to keep it going. Be a positive role model to the team.”

He said he ended up learning a lot from 2018’s trials and tribulations, a lone specific thing above everything else.

“You only get one chance, so make the best of it,” he said.

Funny how Jones says that, yet he seems to be getting a second chance on his football life. He isn’t a linebacker as the 2019 season begins, or maybe he is, depending on how you look at it.

Iowa’s defense developed a hybrid linebacker-safety position called cash that Amani Hooker took and ran with the middle of last season. It remains a permanent fixture now in a day and age of multiple receivers and high levels of passing from opponents.

That eliminates one true linebacker, with the Hawkeyes bringing more of a 4-2-5 look instead of the traditional 4-3-4. Iowa still will use the 4-3-4, as teams like Wisconsin are on the schedule, just not as much.

With a glut of linebackers on the roster, Jones has been switched to a hybrid defensive end position, listed on the most recent depth chart behind A.J. Epenesa. At 5-foot-11 and 244 pounds, he’s linebacker size, and he’ll likely play in packages that will take advantage of his linebacker qualities.

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Versatility defensively overall is a must today, and Jones might just be able to bring that to the Hawkeyes.

“Amani has done a good job out there,” said Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker.

Out there at whatever position you want to call it.

“I’m pumped,” Jones said. “I’m super ready for this season. Since last season ended, I’ve been ready. I’ve been ready to get back onto the field and prove myself a little bit more to the team. Basically just earn my value again.

“I’d have to say my role is very important, just like every other role. I’m just in a different position, that’s all. It feels the same, it’s just different things. That’s all it really is right now. You’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you know?”

Iowa has experience at the true linebacking spots with guys like Kristian Welch, Djimon Colbert and Nick Niemann. Redshirt freshmen Dillon Doyle and Seth Benson add to the mix, as does Barrington Wade (currently dealing with an injury) and true freshmen Jestin Jacobs, Jack Campbell and Yahweh Judy.

“You need a guy that’s very sharp and has the ability to make a decision in a whole bunch of confusing, chaotic situations,” Parker said. “Because that’s the way offenses are going, with shifting and motion. You need a guy who can adjust and control that ... Make sure we’re on the same page and in the right spots. I think we have a good group of guys, at least four or five who have a chance to do that.”

“Those guys have got to go out there, and they’ve got to manage the game,” said linebackers coach Seth Wallace. “There is a lot that’s on their plate, as far as coverage adjustments, front adjustments. Because of that, they’ve got to be extremely bright, they’ve got to be invested and have a great knowledge of what we do defensively. And how that can change, and how they can alter some things to benefit us.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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