Jones Forced and Ready to be a Leader

Andra Davis, Channing Crowder, Brandon Siler, Brandon Spikes…those are the names we associate with the linebacker position for the Florida Gators in the 21st century. Who will it be this year? We don't know just yet. A.J. Jones is poised to be that next name at linebacker for the Gators. The junior from Tampa is going into his senior season as the most veteran backer on the squad.

He has played with relative anonymity for the Florida Gators over the last four seasons, this despite probably being the best linebacker on the field in 2009. A.J. Jones is a versatile athlete with a penchant for the hard hit and the athleticism to cover very skilled offensive players. You won't hear him talk about it much, he just brings his lunch pail and lines up for the next play every game.

"It hasn't ever bothered me," Jones told the media Thursday when asked if he has felt slighted by not having his name mentioned with the great players on Florida's squad the last few years. "I am just one of those guys that goes out there and does my job and doesn't say too much. Now everyone's attention is centered on me and (fellow senior linebacker) Brandon Hicks, but I am the one with the most playing time."

Jones is the most experienced and on his last hoorah with his team. This is something he doesn't take lightly and is determined to make a difference with this team he is ready to put on his back.

"It is a whole different feeling I have," he said. "I have to leave it out on the field. I need to go out (to practice) every day and bring every one else along with me."

"(My last season as a Gator) didn't hit me until I left the practice field today. I just wondered if I did anything to get better, did I do anything to try to bring my teammates along with me. I want to leave out of here a winner. All the rest of those boys left out of here a winner, my class left out of here a winner. So, I want to bring this team along with me."

His teammates are seeing a side of Jones they haven't seen before. He isn't the guy usually barking out orders to his teammates, but as a leader he understands he is going to have to be that guy now.

"They don't really look for me to get vocal so when I do it is taken serious," Jones said. "This morning everyone was tired and I said ‘come on everybody we have to go grind and get better.' Everyone was like ‘oh shoot'…everyone got up and headed over to the sled. I don't say much but when I do it is taken serious."

The 2009 season was one full of pressure. The Gators were the preseason favorite and the whole season was marred with distraction after distraction, taking away from the goal of winning the games directly in front of them. Jones is ready to welcome a new year, one with less pressure on the team. The pressure comes within each practice, where the competition is fierce every day.

"It felt real good (today) because it is the start of a new season," he said. "We are going out there as the 2010 season and not the 2009 season. There is a whole bunch of competition and everyone is just battling and everyone is hungrier…it's a whole different feeling.

Besides his hard hitting, if you had to pick a trait of Jones that stands out it is his speed on the field. Jones can cover the swiftest of backs and fly to the quarterback on a blitz, but he says that this group of linebackers is all about speed.

"No sir," he answered when asked if he thought there was a faster group of linebackers in the country. "That's why I have to get myself together, because the people I am playing along side, I swear they are the fastest group in the world."

Linebacker coach D.J. Durkin is going to work the backers hard. He also is in the middle of testing his guys. Jones and the rest of the group are currently playing different positions on the field than where they have been assigned on the depth chart. There are two logical reasons for this. The first is to get the best three players on the field at the linebacker position. The second is to allow the players at each position to understand the roles of the others.

"Sometimes I play the Will, Mike, Sam, everything," Jones said when asked where he was lined up on day one. "It is all across the board. D.J. Durkin, our coach is very good and he is trying to bring out the very best out of people through competition and coaching hard. He says until we get later on down the line, he will (eventually) put the best three on the field."

The plan is another part in making this group of individual players accountable to the group itself.

"This year it is all about being accountable for the team," he said. "Everyone is on the same playing field. It will help everyone out because everyone is trying to get better every day."

The defense is missing two coaches and hand full of its stars from a season ago. Teryl Austin has replaced Charlie Strong as the defensive coordinator and Durkin replaced strong as the linebacker coach. Jones believes the group is focused and the plan is there for this to be another big year for the Gators.

"We are going to ride and battle," he said. "We are going to be ready. Coach Austin is going to have a good scheme for us this year and we are just going to be ready to go."
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