JOHNSTON, Iowa — Once a linebacker, always a linebacker.
Amani Jones may be lining up as an edge rusher on the Iowa defense this fall, but don’t even suggest that the Hawkeye senior is playing a defensive end position.
"I’m a linebacker, not an end," Jones said Saturday after joining Iowa seniors in hosting two sessions of a youth clinic at Johnston Junior High. "I may line up on the edge, but I’m not putting my hand down. That’s for other guys. I’m a linebacker."
That works for Hawkeye coaches, who are looking for ways to blend the high-energy defender into Iowa’s plans for the fall.
He made the first start of his career at middle linebacker last fall in the season opener against Northern Illinois, but too much adrenaline and too many mistakes left Jones watching the action from the sidelines by halftime.
Jack Hockaday emerged at the position, but Jones was back on the field four games later in a brief reserve role at Minnesota that ended when he was called for targeting in the final minute of the game.
After sitting out the following game, Jones eventually was relegated to putting his 5-foot-11, 242-pound frame to work on special teams.
"It was tough, getting a chance to start and then having to watch," Jones said. "I can’t be beneficial to the team if I’m not on the field."
He finished his junior season with 22 tackles, most accumulated on special teams, but did record two tackles for a loss and one sack.
Jones also found himself with plenty of time to learn.
He chose to pursue the same approach that had served him well throughout his career, both at Iowa and during his prep days at Chicago Phillips.
"I’ve learned to always be a positive person," Jones said. "If you’re down or hurt, it doesn’t do any good to let it eat at you. Stay positive, support the guys around you, make the most of it and keep working. That’s not always easy, but the positive energy, it will get you through things."
Spring practices provided Jones with a fresh start.
He began at weakside linebacker, a spot Djimon Colbert filled last season, and as Hawkeye coaches began to experiment with utilizing a linebacker in place of a defensive end to add quickness and utilize experienced depth, Jones found a new role.
"I can see myself there," Jones said. “I’m 6-foot, not 6-6, so I really can’t be an end, but I can put my speed to good use on the edge and make some plays. It’s a good position."
Jones suffered a high ankle sprain early in the spring practices, though, leaving him with a walking boot on his right foot that he welcomes the chance to shed Monday.
"I’ll be good to go in June," Jones said. "It’s a little setback, but I’ve kept working, and I’m ready to get back out there."
Coach Kirk Ferentz is ready for that as well.
"He missed some important work this spring, so he’ll be playing a little catch-up when we get back at it," Ferentz said, adding that coaches like the potential Jones brings to the edge as Iowa studies potential lineup combinations, which would allow the Hawkeyes to put their top 11 defenders on the field.
"He’s a high-energy guy and he plays that way. If we can find a way to make it work, he can help our team."
That includes continued contributions on special teams.
Jones welcomes those opportunities as well.
"I enjoy playing the game and helping whatever way I can," he said. "Special teams, I enjoy doing those and doing what I can on defense."
Whether that involves him playing at the weakside position or remaining standing while playing on the edge, Jones welcomes the opportunity.
"To me, it’s always been about helping the team any way I can," he said. "I just want to be out there, wherever they want to put me."
Just don’t ask this stand-up guy to put his hand on the ground.
"I have to draw the line somewhere," he said, flashing a smile. "I do think my quickness that lets me play linebacker, I can use it in a good way coming off the edge."