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52 Days until Hawkeye Football: Amani Jones

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Can the senior put it all together to impact Iowa’s defense in 2019?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Iowa at Purdue
Amani Jones has a ton of raw talent. Can he turn it into production on the field in his senior season?
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Hawkeyes look to have a dominant defense in 2019. How does an athletic senior who’s primarily been a special teams contributor fit in?

Amani Jones – Senior
Chicago, IL (Phillips)
5’11”, 242 lbs
2019 Projection: Backup LB/DE

When watching the Hawkeyes, there are a few things we can always count on. We often joke about them as fans but they’re true. Outside zone into the boundary. QB sneak on third and short. Linebackers covering slot receivers in man coverage.

But perhaps the most exciting thing Iowa fans have been able to count on seeing every fall Saturday the last three years is Amani Jones absolutely destroying some poor soul on kickoff duty. If you haven’t done it before, you’re in for a treat. Jones is a grown man physically and when he can pin his ears back he hits like a Mack truck.

What’s more, he embraces the role and loves to initiate contact on kickoff team.

That’s been the story of Jones’ first three seasons in Iowa City. He’s destroyed Doyle’s weight room and left opposing blockers on the field in special teams, but he hasn’t yet been able to fine his place in Phil Parker’s defense.

A season ago, then junior Jones was poised to be the starting middle linebacker after Josey Jewell departed for the NFL’s Denver Broncos. But after struggles in the very first game, Jones lost the job to Jack Hockaday and Hockaday never looked back.

Entering 2019, Jones is looking to be the senior who steals a starting job away and closes out his Hawkeye career on a high note. One route to that outcome is much like the path taken by Hockaday. That is to say, put in the effort on the practice field, make the most of his reps and hope for an opportunity to arise at linebacker.

The struggle for Jones will be that he’s taken that path for 3 years and now finds himself behind younger guys on the depth chart. That has little to do with physical abilities. Jones has a great build at roughly 6’ and north of 240 pounds. He’s like a bowing ball on top of a pair of tree trunks shot out of a cannon.

The problem has been turning that raw athleticism into a middle linebacker who can call a defense, get everyone into alignment and make the correct read in-play. It’s a lot to be tasked with, even more when you speed it all up.

That’s not to say Mr. Jones can’t handle it. He’s been a solid contributor over the years. As a junior, he did finish with 22 tackles despite only the lone start to kick off the year. But he’s best when he can make one read and use his athleticism to make a play.

That’s why Jones’ best chance to be a significant contributor as a senior may not be as a middle linebacker at all. Despite spending his entire career in the position, the defensive genius that is Phil Parker is now tinkering with the idea of edge rushers.

In large part, that’s due to the shift to more of a 4-2-5 base defense thanks to the success of Amani Hooker a year ago. With only two linebacker and 5 defensive backs in most defensive sets, not only is Jones fighting to beat out guys already ahead of him on the depth chart, but he’s doing it with one less spot to fill.

With those talented athletes like Jones, Parker is now looking to make use of their skillsets in other ways. That means the potential for Jones to be a situational player who is asked to make one read and get to the ball. That sounds like a recipe for success for a guy who has himself said he loves to see ball, hit ball.

Just don’t tell him he’s not a linebacker anymore.

After three years of being the most entertaining part of Iowa kickoffs, a tremendous team player and leading presence in the locker room (Jones has spent the last two seasons on Iowa’s leadership group), his best opportunity to complete his Hawkeye career on a high note is to embrace a new role. That doesn’t mean any of those other things will change.

Jones will be on the leadership group for the third consecutive year. He’ll continue to be a key contributor on special teams and he’ll undoubtedly remain a team player. But it’s unlikely we’ll see him in the middle of Iowa’s defense.

That’s do not only to the fact there is no true middle in a 4-2-5 but also to the fact he can be a force as a situational edge rusher. Jones has tremendous burst and quickness that will serve him well off the edge in packages such as the Raider. He could also be quite useful in obvious running situations where he can pin his ears back and beat a back to the hole.

In a defense with as much talent as Iowa’s should have this season, finding a niche to contribute will be a significant feat, but one the Hawkeyes will need to be successful.