Iowa's Amani Jones insists he's still a linebacker, but knows his future might be as an edge rusher

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Iowa’s senior football players were introducing themselves to the children who had participated in a skills clinic at Johnston Middle School on Saturday.

Amani Jones, wearing a massive walking boot on one of his massive legs, limped forward one step and didn’t hesitate to proclaim himself a linebacker from Chicago. That’s what he came to Iowa to be and, in his mind, it will always be his identity.

Never mind that coaches had been tinkering with him as a stand-up defensive end early in spring practices, before he suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out of action.

“It can help me with my speed and my strength and make (offensive) tackles move off their spot. I just feel like there’s things we need to work on with that. … I don’t call myself a defensive end,” Jones adamantly told reporters later.

“I’m not going to put my hand down. That’s the last straw.”

Senior Linebacker Amani Jones watches as kids run a drill during a spring camp on Saturday, May 4, 2019, in Johnston.

Jones is listed at 5-foot-11, 242 pounds. That’s far too short to be a defensive end, he repeatedly pointed out. But he’s also no longer a middle linebacker, the position he manned for one quarter in last year’s season-opening victory over Northern Illinois.

Jones was overly eager in that limited action and was frequently out of position. He lost the job and, for a little while, some of his confidence.

“After they pulled me, I was doubting myself a little bit. But that’s never my attitude or energy, so I’ve just got to pick myself up and do the best I can,” said Jones, who remained a standout on special teams.

“As a player, you’ll get pulled or you know you did something wrong. Other players will try to pull you up. But it’s all about you and how you deal with it. (I needed to) take time and actually worry about the game at hand or the task at hand instead of myself, just being mad at myself. Or going out of the way and isolating myself and be mad at the coaches or be mad at myself. There’s no reason to be mad at yourself because you made the mental mistake and you’ve got to learn from it.”

Jones did get another brief run at middle linebacker last year after an injury to Jack Hockaday. But late in a win over Minnesota, he was called for targeting and had to sit out the first half of the next game, at Indiana. Kristian Welch got the start and played well enough to stay there while Jones could only watch.

Jones is getting his walking boot off Monday. He expects to be fully healthy for the June conditioning period. But he knows he’ll return to the team battling for an outside linebacker job, or seeing spot duty as an edge rusher.

He will not call himself a defensive end. No way.

“I’m a team player, so anything to help the team, I’m pretty good with,” Jones said.

“I want to get on the field. I can’t be successful if I’m not on the field.”

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is of the same mindset. Jones is too talented to spend another season on the sideline.

“We are working him in a role that I think will fit him. The second part of it is, it’s unfortunate he got injured because this work would have been critical. So he’ll be playing catch-up this summer. But at least he got a taste of it,” Ferentz said.

“The reason we’d like to get him on the field is because he’s a high-energy guy. He’s a really intense player, a very physical player. If we can find a way to carve out a role for him on our defensive side, I think that’ll help us as a football team.”

At a minimum, the hard-hitting Jones will play on special teams again. He even has a chance to be the captain of that unit in his final season. He also is aware that his enthusiasm for the sport is noticed by those around him.

“I’m always a positive impact on the team,” he said. “Because a lot of people on my team, they feed off me or we feed off each other and if no one sees the positive energy or the energy that needs to be given, it kind of (gets us) all down.”

Mark Emmert covers University of Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen.