Quarterback, Receiver or Tight End?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Newly named Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, who returned to the NFL ranks after a five-year stint at LSU, has a better feel for Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones than most coaches at the 2005 NFL Scouting Combine.

After all, Saban had the pleasure of trying to slow the elusive Jones as he uniquely guided Arkansas in four games against the Tigers. But when asked about what position will best suit Jones in the NFL on Friday, Saban didn't have an answer.

"I think everybody would have the question of whether he can throw the ball effectively enough to be an NFL quarterback," Saban said. "That's the question. I don't think there's any question about his ability as an athlete to play in this league.

"But what position is a little bit of a projection."

Quarterback, wide receiver or tight end? How about all three? That's the uncertainty that still surrounds the 6-foot-6, 242-pound Jones as he auditions for NFL owners, general managers, coaches and scouts at the combine this weekend.

Jones, who arrived Thursday night, has been weighed in, sized up, examined and interviewed by NFL representatives during his first two days. He also spent 10 minutes with the media in the Indiana Convention Center on Friday, sporting long hair and a gray sweatshirt that designated him as "QB 10."

Jones will get a chance to show off his skills at his collegiate position when he and the rest of the quarterbacks move into the RCA Dome for position specific and agility drills Sunday. He's also planning to run routes with receivers.

But Jones, who impressed scouts with his work at receiver during the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., admitted he's not even sure what position he'll play in the NFL.

"I think it's (about) certain teams' needs," Jones said. "There might be some teams out there that need a quarterback. There might be some that need a receiver. It's tough. Even I don't know. A lot of them are talking. Maybe these next two or three weeks it might narrow down to one or the other and I can concentrate on that.

"But right now, it's still kind of both."

Jones warmed up to the possibility of playing receiver after an Arkansas career in which he set school records for touchdowns produced (77) and total offense (8,392 yards). He declined invitations to play quarterback in other all-star games last month, opting to heed the Senior Bowl's advice to accept an invitation to try receiver.

Jones said he didn't mind the move and proved it in practices, hauling in a deep pass from Georgia quarterback David Greene. He added another big play later in the week. During the game, Jones caught a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't (crushing) to me," Jones said about the move. "Maybe it is to a guy like (former Nebraska quarterback) Eric Crouch, who didn't want to play receiver and wanted to play quarterback and if he couldn't, he didn't want to play. I'm more like (former Indiana quarterback and current Pittsburgh receiver Antwan) Randle El.

"He couldn't do it. If I can't do it, then I'll be more than happy to play receiver."

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt hoped Jones would adopt that attitude as he prepared for April's NFL Draft. He said several NFL personnel were impressed with Jones' performance in the Senior Bowl, but they've had a difficult time comparing his unique talents to anyone else in the NFL.

One thing is agreed upon. The gifted athlete will get a chance to play somewhere.

"I think there's some things he'd have to work on and it also depends, if he stayed at receiver, the type of system he'd go into," Tennessee Titans receivers coach Ray Sherman said. "But he's got the body type and, to me, looks like he can be a tight end. He's big enough and fast enough to be a quarterback. I don't know. It depends.

"He's an athlete. If anybody watches him on tape, he's a tough guy. The thing is, he's a competitor. That's the thing I like about him from just watching him on film."

Former NFL running back and current Green Bay Packers scout Alonzo Highsmith called Jones "his favorite guy" at the combine Friday. Saban said Jones is one of the most unique athletes here because of his ability to make plays at, potentially, a position "he's not suited to play in the NFL."

Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said Jones could be a "weapon."

"He ran and looked very natural, caught the ball extremely well at the Senior Bowl," Dungy said. "I could see somebody saying, 'Here's (a San Diego Chargers tight end) Antonio Gates type of guy that can be a weapon.' He's bigger than any (defensive backs) that are going to cover him. He may be a tight end/H-back position, or a big wide receiver, a la the (former USC receiver) Mike Williams-type body."

One factor in where Jones ends up is the 40-yard dash, which he is scheduled to run Sunday. The chances of a full-time move to receiver would improve if Jones runs a solid time. A slower mark will hurt his draft status.

Jones, who recently ran a hand-held, 4.41-second 40 at the New Jersey speed school he has been attending, hopes to be clocked in the 4.4-, 4.5-second range.

"What people look at is this: You and I are equal. You run 4.5 and I run 4.7. They want you. (The 40 time is) a way of breaking a tie."

Outside of the 40, Jones' accuracy and arm strength will be closely monitored by scouts. So will his route running, pass catching and laid-back demeanor, which some saw as laziness at Arkansas. Jones tried to combat the non-chalant persona by emphasizing that there's nowhere else he'd rather be this week.

In the end, a solid combine could help Jones cement a role in the NFL.

And he doesn't care what it is as long as someone wants him on draft day.

"You know, I just want to play," Jones said. "If it's playing quarterback, like I said, some teams will want a quarterback. Some teams will want a receiver. Maybe it's a receiver where you do some things as far as being an emergency quarterback or you do something else. Who knows what's going to happen?

"I just want to be able to play at the next level."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories