Indiana has an All-American sized hole in the middle of it’s defense, and so far, it’s been a combination of different styles and backgrounds working to replace former Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden, who was drafted by the New York Giants in the fifth round.
Cam Jones, a team captain in 2020 and 2021, is back for his fifth season, and Indiana head coach Tom Allen hit the transfer portal to fill the rest of the linebacker room. Miami (FL) transfer Bradley Jennings Jr. and Kentucky transfer Jared Casey project to contribute at inside linebacker, and Myles Jackson, a transfer from UCLA, could fill the outside linebacker and bull positions.
New defensive coordinator Chad Wilt emphasized that the Indiana coaching staff is not run like a dictatorship. It’s about having conversations and absorbing feedback from new players. Wilt said during spring ball, Casey and Jennings have given their input on the way they were taught certain techniques or terminologies.
“They can take things that they've been taught or coached, and we can blend it all together to make it the best for where we are right now,” Wilt said.
Casey was a four-star recruit and the No. 332 player in his class out of Ballard High School in Louisville, Ky. He redshirted during his first season at Kentucky and appeared in 23 games throughout the following two seasons. As a freshman, Casey made a career-high six tackles in Kentucky’s win over Mississippi State. And since deciding to transfer, he has embraced a change of scenery in Bloomington.
“It just brings an extra chip on your shoulder when you are transitioning into a different program,” Casey said. “It’s motivating and a whole new start.”
During his first months as a Hoosier, Casey has been impressed with the relationship-focused culture Allen has built. During spring ball, Casey said no one was worried about the depth chart because the focus was on gaining trust with teammates and coaches.
“I didn’t know how serious it was until I really got here, how they live by that LEO,” Casey said. “I feel like from my first impressions, it’s going to bring everybody together and we’ll be better than last year.”
Jennings joins Casey as a newcomer at inside linebacker after spending five seasons at Miami (FL). Jennings was ranked as a three-start recruit and the No. 697 player in his class out of Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Fla. He appeared in 35 games for the Hurricanes, but made all 11 starts during his junior season at middle linebacker. That year, Jennings racked up 39 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, helping the Hurricanes reach the Cheez-It Bowl.
Jennings said Indiana’s heavy Florida presence on the roster impacted his decision to become a Hoosier. He knows Devon Matthews and D.J. Matthews from playing Pop Warner football as kids, and he met other players while working out in Miami during the offseason.
Jennings thinks it helps to have other players and coaches learning a new system together as they try to improve upon a defense that allowed more points per game than any Big Ten team last season. Jennings likes the intensity that Wilt brings everyday, and said he looks forward to building a group of leaders at linebacker to replace McFadden.
“Me and [McFadden] are two different players,” Jennings said. “I’ve just got to step into that spot and bring what I bring to the table and just ball out this season.”
Rounding out Indiana’s group of linebacker transfers is Jackson, who comes to Indiana after two years at UCLA. Jackson was the No. 809 player in his class and a three star recruit when he committed to UCLA out of Jonesboro, Ga. In Jackson’s college debut against Colorado, he suffered a season-ending knee injury and redshirted the rest of the season.
Jackson made six tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery in seven games in 2021. At 6-foot-2, 251 pounds, Jackson showed versatility at UCLA to play edge rusher, inside linebacker and bull – a position where the player can rush the quarterback, drop into coverage and defend outside runs.
Jackson said Indiana’s version of the bull makes a lot of sense to him because of how clearly outside linebackers coach Kasey Teegardin is able to teach it. Teegardin has noticed a high attention to detail and a phenomenal rep-based memory from Jackson so far. His notebook is filled with pages and pages of detailed notes from position meetings, which has translated to the practice field.
One day during spring ball, Teegardin said two-year captain Cam Jones was speaking to the linebackers and stepped aside to let Jackson speak. He’s only been in Bloomington for a few months, but Jackson has already fit in as a leader because of his work ethic, body language, coachability and focus, according to Teegardin.
“[Jackson] is a different cat,” Teegardin said. “He is such an intense individual and the way he attacks every drill, every meeting …I think he is completely bought in to LEO and what our program stands for. He is a perfect fit for us in that sense.”
Wilt said each transfer linebacker came to Indiana with a humble attitude and ready to work. He noticed Jennings and Casey arrived with the right mindset, one that can help Indiana improve each day.
“They haven't attempted to prove anything,” Wilt said. “They have just said 'let's just go to work. Be hungry and go to work.'
Related stories to Indiana football:
- RB TRANSFER FOCUS: With Indiana's top four running backs from 2021 gone, Tom Allen hit the transfer portal to bring in Shaun Shivers from Auburn and Josh Henderson from North Carolina. And with a new running backs coach, a featured role is up for grabs. CLICK HERE
- WR TRANSFER FOCUS: With the departure of Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall, Indiana brought in a pair of transfer wide receivers. Emery Simmons becomes a Hoosier after three seasons at North Carolina, and Cam Camper takes a step up from Trinity Valley Community College. CLICK HERE