COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Malik Jones, all 6-foot-5, 275-pounds of him, still can find himself pining for the old days when he was an up-and-coming Baltimore City hoops star.
Those were the formative years with Mount Royal, Tem Melo and Chick Webb Rec and AAU clubs, alongside players like Daxter Miles, Jr.
Yes that Miles, the one that was so chippy the other night in the Terps-West Virginia men’s basketball NCAA Tournament tilt, which the Mountaineers prevailed in to end the Terps’ 28-win season. Miles, the Baltimore native and onetime Dunbar High School standout guard, always wanted to attend Maryland but was never offered after shipping off to prep school for a year. Clearly he still has an edge to him about it.
And Jones was glued to the television set checking out the NCAA hardwood bout on Sunday night, bittersweet feelings no doubt.
“Yeah, he is a pretty chippy guy, and growing up playing basketball he was always like that, had that edge,” Jones said with a smile, of his former youth basketball teammate.
But these days it’s all about the gridiron for Jones, who is running first team defensive tackle this spring in the Terps new 4-3 front, filling in for now for injured junior starter Quinton Jefferson, but carving his niche as a rotation player after a redshirt season last year. Randy Edsall likes what he sees so far of a player that arrived to campus at 225 pounds a year and a half ago, but with a lot of athleticism and bend to him from his diverse athletic background.
“Malik is starting to come around, you can see him…and his body is different now than what it was. Every rep that he gets out there this spring is really, really good. So we’re working to get him to be a guy we can count on in the fall, and I like the progress that he is making. Had a good off-season, seen some good things out of him so far,” Edsall said.
Jones has gained 50 pounds since arriving as a long, rangy athlete who starred for the Poets as a rush end, including a few state titles at M&T Bank Stadium. The added bulk has aided his move inside, while he can still play both inside and out.
“I like the new defense as it gives us a better, a new chance to fly around and play. Play more free and give us a lot more freedom to move around and do things they want to do more of,” Jones said.
He added that in the old 3-4 he had to worry more about "surfacing, getting more hands on with the guys, but now I can play more in the backfield. And I like that,” Jones said.
Jones said he is comfortable at either spot, but tackle is where he is this month, and will be going forward. Of the unit in general, Jones said the group is still trying to find itself, with each player needing specific work.
“We definitely need to get healthy, and once we get healthy I think we will be a complete unit,” Jones said.
Jones has a good motor, improved technique and pad level as well as hand placement, “and I have a relentless pursuit for the ball,” he said.
He’s got to continue to get stronger to take on blocks better, while he wants to work on striking as well.
Jones, as do all the Terps defenders, knows the new 4-3 will help in stopping the Big Ten run attacks that gashed them at times in 2014.
“I’ve seen we will get a lot of runs, and it’s key to be able to stop the run. You have to be able to do that to win games, and I think the 4-3 will help us more with that,” Jones said.
Jones is targeting 285 pounds by the fall. He said all the d-linemen have their moments talking up things up front, with no single outspoken guy. He said some of the even younger guys, end Brett Kulka, tackle Kingsley Opara and new mid-year enrollee end Oseh Saine, have all shown him some things and some improvement this month in camp.
Jones spent spring break in Florida with a group of Terps including fellow starting spring defensive lineman Roman Braglio, the junior end who has played every spot on the Terps defensive front and has the most experience sans Jefferson, who is still rehabbing his knee this month. Said Braglio of his young teammate:
“He has actually grown a lot,” Bralio said of Jones. “He’s a force inside, and he is a big dude. He can take on a couple blockers and he’s got good pass rush. He is always in the backfield, and he’s got a mean streak to him, which is always good to have on the d-line.”
Jones has a lot of upside on the gridiron, but he stood out for a time in youth hoops, and at Dunbar, before converting full-time his sophomore year from hoops to football.
“Sometimes I miss basketball, but I think that me choosing football would have been better for me in the end and it has been,” Jones said.
Overall, the Terps defensive front, which is also missing starting tackle David Shaw (knee surgery last week) is the biggest transitional unit this year after three starters departed, not to mention two are on the shelf now with knee injuries. Both Jefferson, who is doing some individual work now, and Shaw, who had an old patella injury cleaned up last week, are expected back for August camp. The Terps will also welcome four-star Under Armour All American tackle signee Adam McLean in the fall, and he could have an early impact.
But for a handful of redshirt freshmen, notably Jones and Opara, it’s a big spring and fall ahead, as they rise in the rotation, while Kulka is another youngster who has caught Edsall’s eye often.
Malik Jones Emerging on Terps Defensive Line
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