Aggies Hope To Get Physical With Jones

FAYETTEVILLE -- There aren't many successful formulas for stopping Arkansas senior quarterback Matt Jones, and New Mexico State linebackers coach Ross Els knows it.

Not even schools with the athletes to theoretically contain a player like Jones have been able to get a handle on him over his three-year career in the Southeastern Conference.

That doesn't leave a lot of options for the hard-hitting, scrappy Aggie defense.

"We have to get some shots in on him," Els said. "We need to hope for some gang tackles and let him know he's in a real college football game."

Not surprisingly, the easy-going Jones isn't sweating it.

"I don't really worry about that," he said of the Aggies' strategy. "I go into every game the same. I don't worry as far as if people are keying on me or anything like that. If that's going to happen, that's going to happen. I'm just going to go do what I've been taught."

His elusiveness has kept Jones from taking a beating in a game and New Mexico State linebacker Jimmy Cottrell knows it won't be easy to get to him.

"It's going to be extremely difficult," Cottrell said. "You watch film and not a lot of guys ever get a clean shot on him. Hopefully we can have one guy get him stood up and then have 10 guys coming after him."

Jones could only remember three games where he's taken real shots -- as a freshman against LSU, as a sophomore against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and last year against Mississippi State.

"God has definitely blessed me," he said. "I've never been injured playing sports and hopefully we can keep it that way. It's just a blessing from God as far as not being injured or not taking big hits."

Other than not getting caught -- Jones' preferred way to avoid contact -- his style is simple.

"I think it's because I really don't want to get hit," he said. "I don't know. If I see some people coming, I'll fall down or step out of bounds. I'm not shy about that. I think that just comes from being a quarterback. I don't mind getting hit, but I don't want to.

"That's just how I've always been. If I see the sideline and I have the first down, I might as well get out of bounds because it's a long season."

His 271 yards of total offense against New Mexico State last year in Arkansas' 48-20 win were the second-most of his career in a non-overtime game (356 against Florida in 2003).

"He really embarrassed us last year and our guys remember that," Els said.

Cottrell said the defense used Jones as its motivation to get better throughout the spring and offseason.

"I've never felt more unathletic than I did after that game last year," Cottrell said. "We let one man beat us and that can't happen again.

"He's definitely got a target on his back this year."

Jones isn't comfortable wearing that target, but said it may ultimately be for the best.

"I wish they wouldn't key on me," he said. "I wish they'd go key on somebody else. But if that's what they're going to do, I think that just opens up the game for our running backs and receivers to make plays."

The most talked about items on Arkansas' newly released depth chart were the two freshmen listed 1-2 at bandit end.

Marcus Harrison of Little Rock Mills, who attended Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy last year, is the starter and true freshman Jamaal Anderson of Little Rock Parkview is the backup.

Junior Wes Murphy and senior Elliott Harris, who have a combined 55 games and 108 tackles between them in their careers, were simply beaten out during fall camp, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said.

Injuries and academics also caused Reggie Banks, another expected starting contender at end, to miss a few practices and cost him against the young and hungry freshmen.

"The reason you see Marcus Harrison and Jamaal Anderson where they are is because they're talented and came in here and got a couple breaks with injuries," Nutt said. "They came in, they're running fast, chasing the ball, they don't know what to do every time. But they're going full speed and making plays. You have to give them a chance."

Nutt said the job of the coaching staff Tuesday was to make sure those players who didn't crack the two- or three-deep chart didn't lose heart.

"I don't like depth charts sometimes because it sometimes deflates ... you're moving somebody up and taking somebody else down," Nutt said. "Our job today for the first time is to tell the guys that see their name third or fourth don't give up. You keep going. You're a play away or two plays away."

Cedric Washington was the starter at kick returner last season, averaging 19.9 yards per return to rank seventh in the SEC.

Now in a primary role at wide receiver, coaches have relieved him of his return duties for the time being.

Washington also had a shoulder injury midway through August that held him out of some drills.

"He didn't get a lot of work at kickoff return during the middle of two-a-days," Nutt said. "So we decided to go another route. We feel like we can always move Cedric back there and he'll get the job done for us. But we feel like we have some good options back there with Dedrick Poole, Peyton Hillis, DeCori Birmingham, Michael Grant. We have some names we can put back there."

Nutt also said Tuesday that redshirt freshman cornerback Chris Houston and Poole will be the starters at gunner on the punt coverage team.

Junior outside linebacker Michael Robinson missed the last couple practices with a groin injury but was back at practice Tuesday.

Robinson was listed as the backup to Marcus Whitmore on the depth chart and Nutt was glad to have him back.

"It's a hard injury to heal, but he was back today, thank goodness," Nutt said.

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