Chris Jones Thrives In Dual Duties

Now let’s be clear on this: Chris Jones wants to put the other team in as many ‘and-long’ situations as possible to benefit the entire Bulldog defense. But since there’s the extra element of personal pleasure in their special pass rushing formation, hey… “That’s the only time I get to play defensive end!” he grins.

Oh, so you thought Jones was going to give up on his favorite topic? Nah, never. But to #96’s credit he has been able to accept sophomore season assignment as an interior tackle in Mississippi State’s defensive line rotation. Thrive there, too, as his 2.0 sacks and two more hurries through four games remind.

Yet when the Dog defense makes the plays on first and second downs, leaving the opponent with a conversion situation almost certain to require passing, well, whose to blame Jones if he has a bit more bounce in those steps towards the end of the line?

Certainly the pass-rush package plays to Mississippi State’s particular strengths this season. Coordinator Geoff Collins takes starting end Preston Smith and places him over the ball, and sends in Jones—if he isn’t on the field already—to take stance in his preferred outside position. Then, let the mayhem begin.

“Because Preston is so fast and elusive, and the nose gets scared of his speed,” says Jones. “And I’m so powerful…I’m fast, too, now!” he interrupts himself to grin again, just in case anyone misses the point. Seriously though, “On the outside tackle I can bull-rush him or beat him with this d-end speed.” Notice the ‘this’ bit, a reminder of Jones’ constant petition to Turner that he be allowed to live out on the end of things. So far, the coach is winning.

Just like the defense is developing a winning package in this trifecta with the third Dog DE Ryan Brown or one of several viable alternates. Like Nelson Adams, another two-way lineman himself who has reversed Jones’ path of going inside-out this season for his primary assignment. It needs noting, State won’t always go with the three-man front in passing downs; Collins judges the all-lineup matchups for what should work best.

Still it’s something else the opposition has to practice for, and that Mississippi State can apply as needed. Or as Jones said, “It just changes up their mindset. You put a d-end at nose and you can beat him with speed, that’s what we try to do. We mix it up.” Plus, it is easier to pull one lineman and hurry a defensive back onto the field against a hurry-up offense than vice-versa.

Speaking of which… Few offenses hurry their play-pace the way Texas A&M can. This week is about as complete a change of pace as possible within a SEC context, as the Bulldogs switch from facing a deliberate approach at LSU to the pedal-to-metal Aggies. Jones got a healthy taste of their tactics as a true 2013 freshman in a 51-41 shootout at College Station.

“It was tiring, man!” he recalls. “That was tiring out there last year. Now we’re trying to prepare ourselves better for the hurry-up offense.” At least this season Dog defenders won’t see quite the same sort of crazed creativity from the quarterback position. “Johnny Manziel, he was another breed!” Jones said. Yet Kenny Hill fits into a similar football family tree, maybe not as frantic on the field but equally quick at making wise choices and with probably more overall tools around him.

Hill also seems to strike sooner, flicking the ball to a target before a defense gets set rather than waiting for it to break down. Jones said a practice emphasis has been for the quick throw underneath coverage, which the Aggies use to eventually lure everyone up tight before dropping the big bomb.

This puts priority on Mississippi State’s front four, or three, or whatever the set, putting on pressure without requiring too much extra help. Every linebacker or safety sucked up to the box is one less obscuring the downfield view. “It’s very important, we’re trying to cause anything to affect the throw,” said Jones. “Getting the hands up, getting in the quarterback’s face, anything to cause him to float it or get a deflection and a tip.”

At the same time, this is no single-dimension gameplan. This quarterback doesn’t run as often as his predecessor, because he doesn’t have to. There is a herd of Aggie backs capable of carrying the ball and load alike.

“We still have to prepare for the run. Because they run it too. But most of all we try to do our job and run the play Coach Collins calls, and I believe he’s going to put us in the best position,” said Jones. “The front four set the standard in the game. Pass rushing, stopping the run, they lean on us. We know if we’re doing good the linebacker are going to do good. So we have to set a tone for this game.”

One tone is already set. Ranked teams are nothing new to Scott Field, whether the home side or guest or, in recent seasons, both. This matchup of #6 A&M and #12 State is different in that there hasn’t been a pairing of top-15-ranked clubs in Starkville since 1986. For perspective, only two Bulldog assistant coaches were out of college that year, the stadium had no specific name and seated only 43,000.

Fast forward to present. Davis Wade Stadium now seats an official 61,337 and more than that came to the 2014 opening of the just-expanded facility. But that was a non-conference contest. Saturday will be the first SEC game played in the bigger and vastly better DWS and even with the 11:01am kickoff the house ought be over-packed.

For that matter the build-up buzz keeps, well, building up thanks to the rousing victory at LSU and an open date to re-focus. Yes, Jones agrees, this is almost as big as a home game gets. Almost.

“Well it’s cool for every home game,” he explained. “We always have an amazing crowd.” It’s just that this time things before and around the game ought be a bit more amazing as campus fills up.

”They’re going to have their cowbells ready. But every week is important because it’s a game, it’s an SEC game. The numbers, 6 and 12, aren’t important. We’re just trying to be the best team on Saturday.”

And if Jones does get to take a few more turns at his ideal identity on the end? “I tell Coach Collins what’s best for the team, man, what’s best for the team,” with the biggest grin of all to make sure his face reveals what he feels is best.

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