State of the Hogs: Wilson to Manziel

From Tyler Wilson to Drew Morgan to Johnny Manziel, Greenwood coach Rick Jones covers all the current topics, including Bret Bielema and Jim Chaney.

The conversation with Rick Jones had to wait until the Greenwood coach was done with lunch duty. He apologized for also watching Senior Bowl practices on his office television set. You never knew when Tyler Wilson was going to interrupt with his turn under center.

Actually, Jones devoted full attention to the reporter, for almost one hour. It was a rich session with nuggets on future Arkansas receiver Drew Morgan, new UA coaches Bret Bielema and Jim Chaney, the state of the NFL, Johnny Manziel and Wilson.

Jones is fresh off another high school state title with the Bulldogs. He's excited about all things football, especially after following Wilson in Bradenton, Fla., for two days last week. Jones was Wilson's coach at Greenwood, but felt like the pupil at the workouts in preparation for the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine.

"I was honored that Tyler let me go with him," Jones said. "I took a clipboard and took notes. The day is 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. I learned a lot. I'm not a very good quarterback coach, so it was a treat for me to be able to try to pick up a few things from Tyler and the coaches there."

Yeah, right.

Jones knew enough to put Morgan on the field in every position imaginable at Greenwood, and smart enough to know when to get him a rest and a cup of water. Morgan played wideout, tailback, defensive back and kick returner for the Bulldogs.

"He's a tremendously talented athlete," Jones said of the UA commit. "He can do a lot of things. He's got a wonderful combination of quick feet and great hands. His hands are as good as any I've had.

"He has great diversity. He can return kicks. He can catch the deep ball. He can catch the short pass, and then take it deep.

"When we played the better teams like Conway and (Fort Smith) Southside, we just put him at tailback and handed the ball to him. But we didn't try to do that too much because he was playing both ways."

"We'd take him out for a breather, then back on the field. He's as fit as any I've had. He did what we asked in practice, then he'd go to Cross Fit and train with Daniel Lunney. It's great when your best player also works harder than everyone else, too."

It's all just the tip of the iceberg from what Jones saw at the IMG NFL Training Academy in Bradenton.

"It was like Disney Land for athletes," Jones said. "I'm so grateful that Tyler didn't mind me tagging along."

Jones is biased towards Wilson, but it's clear the former UA quarterback is doing well.

"He looks great to me," Jones said. "A lot of stuff has happened to him in the last year that was totally beyond his control. I was involved in the process last winter. I thought he should stay another year. I thought RGIII and Andrew Luck would make him the third best in that quarterback group and he'd have a chance to be first with another year in Coach (Bobby) Petrino's system. The next two months have a lot of things that will determine everything, but he's having a huge week so far at the Senior Bowl.

"I am so proud of him. He's still the same Tyler Wilson that I knew at Greenwood. He's a blessing."

Jones came to UA practices to watch Wilson, but it was just as much to watch Petrino. There are tricks in the Greenwood offense that came from Petrino practices. Jones hopes to add wrinkles from Bielema and Chaney, too.

"I'm coming to practices and I know I'll learn something from them," he said. "I've talked on the phone with both Coach Bielema and Coach Chaney. I'm so excited that both of them are here.

"I watched how Coach Bielema dealt with his players when they focused on Russell Wilson on the Year of the Quarterback two years ago. And, then for him to bring one of the best spread guys here, I'm just elated. I've talked with both of them on the phone in the last couple of weeks. It's just great.

"As a spread guy, I've been a fan of Jim Chaney for a long time. I have a good friend who knows him well. He couldn't say enough good things about Chaney, his coaching ability and his personality. He's fun-loving and absolutely brilliant.

"If you are talking to a skill guy in recruiting, they have to be excited about Jim Chaney being here. He's not good, he's great. I'm selfish. I was so excited when Coach Bielema announced a spread guy."

Jones expects to learn motivational techniques from Bielema. The new UA coach is known as tough, but someone players love.

"I saw some behind the scenes stuff on ESPN," Jones said. "I like to look at body language when a coach is with a player. It's clear that players at Wisconsin felt good about their head coach.

"Part of what I do is get kids to do what they don't want to do. You can be tough with them, but when it's all said and done, you want them to respect you, too.

"We are abusive and we coach them hard. We jump up and down and throw our hats. But off the field, we are different with them. My son is a sophomore on our team now. He can't figure it out."

Jones watches every football game on TV in hopes of stealing something new. Generally, he hasn't seen the style he coaches in the NFL, until lately.

"We have a trickle down sport," he said. "It trickles down from the NFL, to college, to high school, to junior high. But lately, I've seen some things trickle up. That has never happened. The stuff that Chris Ault developed in the spread at Nevada is starting to show up in the NFL. And now they've hired Chip Kelley in the NFL. A spread guy in the NFL? How great is that?"

Manziel fascinates Jones. He doesn't recall anyone like the Heisman Trophy winner.

"I don't know that I've seen anyone do to an Oklahoma defense what he did," Jones said. "He does some things weird as far as his passing mechanics, but he's got the most unbelievable feet that I've ever seen.

"I know from talking to the great quarterback coaches, they say it's feet, feet, feet as far as passing. And he's got the best. He may not be great above the waist, but he's the best below the waist. I don't know if Oklahoma could have gotten to him with 13 on the field.

"I watched the A&M-Alabama game closely. What I saw that was a little different was the way A&M changed personnel and how Alabama tried to change, too. It was every play, 70 times. I think they got Alabama out of rhythm.

"It wasn't so much tempo as it was rhythm. Alabama jumped offside twice and had to call timeout twice on defense. That's stuff that I love to see. It's what makes me get excited still after 35 years in the business."

Did anyone notice?

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