Hawkeye football linebacker corps ready for season’s challenges

Iowa looks to replace last year’s veteran linebacker corps with a host of unproven talent.


Joseph Cress

Minnesota running back Shannon Brooks gets tackled by Iowa linebacker Amani Jones during an Iowa/Minnesota football game in Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 28, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers, 17-10.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

This time last year, one of the Hawkeyes’ biggest strengths on defense was the linebacker corps. Josey Jewell, Bo Bower, and Ben Niemann were all seniors with a few years of experience playing together.

Now, all three of them have traded their Iowa uniforms in for NFL ones, and the Hawkeyes are left looking for a few new starting faces at linebacker.

But just because they’re gone does not mean their presence has left Kinnick Stadium.

“I learned a lot from those guys,” Amani Jones said.

Those behind them ate up the knowledge that the three veterans gained in their time at Iowa.

“With guys like that, you just try to take everything you can to follow in their footsteps,” Nick Niemann said. “The way they practiced, the way they played the game, their mental preparation, the way they carried themselves, all that stuff.”

Lessons from two- and three-year starters, one of whom was an All-American, will surely be beneficial to the Iowa defense come Sept. 1.

Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, experience and talent weren’t the only things lost with last year’s linebackers — they also lost some of their biggest defensive leaders.

“We lost a good group of seniors,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They gave us good leadership, and it all starts there when trying to replace those guys. Trying to see who can follow their footsteps and assume some of those leadership roles.”

Leadership ability is extremely important at all three linebacker positions, but perhaps particularly at middle linebacker. As of now, Jones appears to be the one to grab the role.

While he possesses plenty of talent, he also seems to be a natural leader and seems to be aware that being a leader is part of his job as quarterback of the defense.

“I’m the guy everybody wants to see get hyped or make plays,” Jones said. “Everybody wants to hear my voice. If everybody hears my voice, that means everything is going to be all right.”

Jones’ contagious buzz seems to have made him stand out as a leader so far, and his intensity earned him praise from the defensive coordinator.

“Jones does a good job of getting guys together with the energy he brings,” Phil Parker said. “I like his energy and his desire to go out there and be the best he can be.”

Alongside Jones at the outside linebacker position will be Nick Niemann, the little brother of the Ben Niemann.

Being brothers with guy who held the position you’re taking over can be a nice asset, and it’s something Nick Niemann has taken advantage of.

“When you have a family member who is that close to you, you can ask them anything you need,” he said. “He was there to give me advice or help me with anything I need.”

Niemann and Jones seemed to have solidified their starting roles, but the weak side linebacker spot, however, is a “wide-open competition,” Ferentz said.

While the linebacker depth chart being in flux might seem like a negative, Jones sees the competition among the linebacker corps strengthening the unit.

“[Competition] really brings out the best in everybody,” Jones said. “We’re all hyped to see each other play. When someone makes a play, we all make a play.”