Christian Jones spent much of his time last season dropping back into coverage as opposed to attacking the line of scrimmage, so fans were wondering if they would ever see a true demonstration of the freakish athleticism that made him so desirable to the Florida State coaching staff in the first place.
The time has come.
With three-time leading tackler Nigel Bradham getting prepared for next month's NFL Draft and Nick Moody making the move from safety to strong-side linebacker, coach Jimbo Fisher and Co. have elected to flip-flop Jones from the strong side to the weak side. This change will allow for Jones to put his speed and quickness on display while chasing down enemy ball carriers from the back side.
"I like what I see," Fisher said after Wednesday's spring practice. "He's playing a lot more instinctive in there. He's doing a good job. I like his whole attitude."
The Winter Park native could be labeled as somewhat of a disappointment up until this point in his collegiate career. The four-star recruit had been heavily sought after, and many saw him potentially joining a long list of stellar linebackers that have passed through the halls of Florida State over their years.
However, the switch to what would appear to be a more natural position for the junior should enable him to grow as a football player. Playing on the weak side gives a defender more freedom to attack the play compared to the strong side, which tends to see extra blockers on running plays and requires coverage of the tight end more often than not on passing plays.
"If they ain't All-Americans by the end of their freshman year, then everybody in the country, not just here, it's a syndrome because of recruiting," said Fisher. "If they're not good, we go, 'Oh, my god.' If you get them to stay for three or four years, then you get to see where they should be."
The 2012 season will be Jones' third with the 'Noles but his first playing the "WILL" position. The 6-4, 237-pounder flashed some moments of brilliance this past year -- but also disappeared from time to time -- in registering 56 tackles and three sacks. Those numbers should rise this season, as Jones has already impressed Fisher with his adaptation to the new role.
Nonetheless, the position isn't entirely unique to the Lake Howell High School alum. He did spend time learning the weak-side responsibilities last season, which helped instill Fisher with enough confidence to make the adjustment permanent.
"We trained him there last year," Fisher said. "I think his size, his range and the ability to play backs in the weak flat and do some things. There's more in-the-box stuff there then there is at the other position."
While there is oftentimes a learning curve for transitioning to a new assignment, the linebacker spot is sometimes more about instinct and desire than scheme and technique. A player that takes on the challenge must be willing to do the dirty things other positions don't necessarily require. It's this second level of the defense that is relied upon to prevent big runs on the ground and long completions through the air.
Fisher has enough faith that Jones can be another Bradham, who really played well down the stretch in 2011 and appears to be shooting up draft boards lately.
"I see him maturing," said Fisher of Jones. "I really like his attitude and leadership right now. Hey, you're either at the bottom of the pile or you're standing around the pile. If I can see your number, then you ain't a linebacker. You should be at the bottom of the pile somewhere."
Expect to see No. 7 in garnet and gold at the bottom of the pile on a regular basis.
Matt Ritter is a football and basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com, as well as a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
Jones adapting to his position change
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