Joe Dineen, Jr., Finds a Home at Linebacker

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas junior Joe Dineen, Jr., stayed at home when he made the decision to play for his hometown Jayhawks, but finding his place on the field took some time.
Upon joining the KU football program from Free State High School, where he played both quarterback and safety, Dineen assumed he would play defense—notably linebacker. However, arriving at that position was a bit of a whirlwind.
As his first fall camp as a freshman opened in 2014, Dineen was playing safety, a position he was very familiar with. About two weeks into camp everything changed. Due to the loss of veteran running backs Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox to injuries, the local product was asked to move to the offensive side of the ball.
“It wasn’t easy, it was fun though,” said Dineen of his days of ever-changing positions. “I came here assuming I would get moved down to linebacker, but then they put me at running back and that was kind of out of the blue. I had no clue that would happen.”
Dineen made the most of his time on the Jayhawk offense, carrying the ball 14 times for 45 yards and completing his only career pass attempt for five yards. After KU made a coaching change following the fourth game of his freshman campaign, Dineen played primarily on special teams before moving back to safety with three games left in the season.
“When they moved me back to safety, I was happy to be back on the defensive side of the ball, because that is what I was recruited to play and where I wanted to play,” said Dineen. “Then I got moved down to linebacker, which is where I always assumed I would eventually play. It was a long journey, but I ended up where I originally thought I would.”
Although Dineen officially made the move from safety to linebacker in time for spring practice in 2015, he did not participate during the spring season as he was recovering from a shoulder injury. His first-ever action as a linebacker, during all of his years playing football, would not come until his second fall camp.
Dineen’s transition to linebacker was fairly smooth as he finished his sophomore season ranked 10th in the Big 12 with 86 tackles.
“I felt like I got comfortable at the end of the Baylor game,” said Dineen, who was the Big 12 Conference’s third-leading tackler in league games with 76 stops. “After the Baylor game, I felt like I got a little bit better every week. The first couple of games I was really just focused on being in the right place. I wasn’t even focused on making a play, I was just worrying about not messing up. Towards the end of the season I was able to focus on making plays.”
According to Dineen there are some subtle differences between playing safety and linebacker and then there is one huge difference between the two positions in the amount of physical contact.
“It’s different playing linebacker in that you get hit every play,” said Dineen. “At safety, if you are in coverage and they don’t throw it your way there is a chance you might not get hit and even in run fits, you might not get blocked. But as a linebacker, offenses scheme to block us every play, so we are getting hit pretty much every play. That’s a lot different and I had to get used to that.”
Dineen has made the most of his time since KU’s 2015 season came to an end, but even as the season was progressing he was doing everything he could to be the best linebacker he could be.
“I have had to eat like crazy,” joked Dineen, who has put on an additionally 20 pounds. “I had to send pictures of all of my meals to the strength staff. Snacks, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Aaron Carbuhn, our nutritionist, helped big time by planning out my meals. Honestly, lifting weights and eating have been the biggest keys. I put most of my pounds on at the end of the season. It was all just—lift and eat, lift and eat.”
All of that lifting and eating has come in handy as Dineen has already seen the positive fruits of his labor.
“I can tell a difference between my first game and my last game of the season,” said Dineen. “How I take on blocks, how much easier it is to get off blocks when you are attached, little things like that. Even tackling. At first I would have to almost throw my whole body at a guy to get him down, now it’s easier based just on how much stronger I have gotten.”
In addition to being more comfortable playing linebacker due to his physical growth, Dineen has also made sure to make improvements on the mental side by getting in the film room.
“I have watched lots of film and from watching film alone, I know what I need to get better on,” said Dineen. “I watch film and then attack my weaknesses. Every day in practice, I don’t look at the broad spectrum of things, I focus on one thing every day to try to perfect my craft.”
With Dineen having found a home at linebacker, he and safety Fish Smithson have formed a formidable pair of tacklers for the KU defense. Dineen was second on the team in tackles, only to Smithson, who topped the Big 12 in tackles per game and led the NCAA in solo stops per game in 2015.
Now that he feels comfortable playing linebacker, Dineen is looking forward to making lots of plays for the Jayhawks in 2016, with Smithson again by his side.
“I think being a dynamic tackling duo would be pretty nice,” said Dineen. “Having a feel for playing the linebacker position and knowing Fish is behind me, I can kind of sell out on plays. There is comfort knowing I know what I am doing in my role and also knowing there is a guy who can go make a tackle behind the linebacking group. It makes it easier to go all out on every play because you know if you miss, someone reliable is back there to clean it up.”
For Kansas football, there is a great comfort in knowing the hometown hero has truly found his home.