Amani Jones gets reps on D-line as Iowa’s defense makes changes

Linebacker Amani Jones’ switch to defensive line is a key example of how Iowa’s defense is changing.

Minnesota+quarterback+Zack+Annexstad+is+pressured+by+Iowa+linebacker+Amani+Jones+during+Iowas+game+against+Minnesota+at+TCF+Bank+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+October+6%2C+2018.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Golden+Gophers+48-31.

Nick Rohlman

Minnesota quarterback Zack Annexstad is pressured by Iowa linebacker Amani Jones during Iowa’s game against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, October 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers 48-31.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

Picture an Iowa defensive line without the likes of Anthony Nelson, Parker Hesse, Matt Nelson, or Sam Brincks. It seems normal because that’s what the Hawkeyes have heading into the 2019 season.

But instead of those four established starters, imagine linebacker Amani Jones – who got pulled in last year’s season-opener for being too hyped – on the edge.

It would certainly make for an interesting unit, but the Hawkeyes might be closer to it than previously thought.

Iowa defensive line coach Kelvin Bell said that he doesn’t look at Jones as a defensive end but sees him as an edge defender.

“It gives our defense a little bit different look,” Bell said. “He’s going to have to adjust. Things happen a lot faster [down there] because you’re closer to the ball. The things that he provides, his energy, he’s really good for the room. He wants to be good.”

Lily Smith
Iowa’s Amani Jones (52) Amani Hooker (27) tackle Mohamad Ibrahim (24) during the Iowa/Minnesota football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday, October 6, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers, 48-31.

Despite losing four starters, the defensive line still has some impressive resumes returning on the depth chart, including A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston.

Automatic playing time is not guaranteed, although Iowa would like to build a rotation on the line. But Bell likes what he has seen from the former linebacker so far.

“So far, so good. He’s doing everything I’ve asked him to do,” Bell said. “He knows that if he wants to get on the field [and] he wants to play, those reps are earned. I’m not just going to throw him out there so his parents can take pictures.”

Iowa also possesses a linebacker corps that would be difficult to pass on the depth chart. After Jones started and was removed in Week 1 last season, Kristian Welch, Nick Niemann, and Djimon Colbert did enough to secure consistent time on the field.

Throw in a “Star” or a “Cash” linebacker and a scheme with five defensive backs, and that crams the path even more.

Iowa linebackers’ coach Seth Wallace said the idea to move Jones to the defensive line came up a couple of months ago, and he has warmed up to the idea since.

“He’s a high-energy kid,” Wallace said. “He’s somebody that has a passion for this game. You could argue, is he one of the best 11 true football players that we could put on the football field? Maybe.

“It’s been a good transition up to this point, certainly, for a position that lacked the numbers, and then here’s another position at the linebacker spot where there wasn’t a lack of numbers. It was, how can we make this thing right? You got power, you got explosiveness, you got quick-twitch – those are all necessary at that defensive end position.”

Bell said Jones playing on the line would give the defense a little more of a 3-4 look but wouldn’t actually evolve to a 3-4. Wallace echoed that sentiment but noted the difference between a two-point and three-point stance.

It’s early, but as of now, it seems as if the Hawkeye coaching is comfortable with the changes in the defense.

“He’s got enough foundation, enough background at linebacker that you could tell him, ‘You’re dropping to the flat,’ and he knows how to cover the flat,” Wallace said. “It’s been a good transition for him.”

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