A shot at starting somewhere on Mississippi State’s defensive line, he means. For Chris Jones that shot is entirely clear now. Graduation and the National Football League have taken multi-year starters Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones, leaving first-team opportunity for 2016.
Welcome to the top team, Mr. Jones.
And about time, the true junior will tell. Everyone with the good fortune to have covered Jones the past two seasons has enjoyed his outlook on life as Mississippi State’s top rotation defensive tackle. At the same time Jones has never disguised his ambition to be on-field first and most.
Now that he is first-squad? Nope, Jones is not taking it for granted. “The grind never stops for me,” he said.
Take how he handled those few fast weeks between spring and summer semesters. Rather than relax at home in Houston he was working out both off and on campus as much as practical. OK, so maybe he’s dialed it back on weekends. Sometimes.
“But the grind doesn’t stop for me. I just want to be consistently good. If I can get that out of myself I can accept that.”
Obviously others are forecasting consistent goodness, and even greatness, from Jones. His name shows up early and often in the stack of summer publications picking their all-conference and even all-American teams. He’s also among the 2015 juniors already targeted by NFL observers as a potential early draft entry. Quite impressive, for someone yet to start a college game.
Maybe that fact is behind Jones’ increased efforts to do more than start for State. With lofty projections come sky-high expectations. And in the case of Chris Jones, expectations don’t come much greater.
Especially of himself.
“The great, it will come to you,” said Jones. “Once you’re consistently good every day the great will come to you. So I just try to stay consistently good.”
Not to mention get better where necessary. With all the still-developing abilities Jones is mature enough to know he’s an unfinished product. Everyone talks about upgrading technique in spring ball; Jones went at it with a fresh urgency. “That’s the main part of your technique,” he said. “Even when you’re tired.” With demanding position coach David Turner driving Jones on gains were made, winded or fresh or whatever.
Then, “Just giving more relentless effort. That’s what it’s all been about,” Jones said. “Just try to be consistently good every day.”
When Jones is good in a game, he is very very good indeed. It did not show as much on his sophomore season stat sheet; 26 tackles in 13 games won’t open eyes. Reviewing the tapes shows another story though.
Playing in the now-disdained 1A/1B rotation Jones was often a force in his first full season as a defensive tackle. And yes, moving inside obviously cut into statistical opportunities. As a backup freshman end he had 32 tackles and 7.0 of them for losses with a trio of sacks. Interestingly though he also had 3.0 sacks at tackle and more to the point eight hurries. Meaning, here is a tackle-sized man with end-type moves.
Yes, as all know by now, Jones would rather be using the size and moves as an end again. That story line has been written endlessly since last August and will appear plenty more times in 2015. First because it’s just fun to discuss with Jones who plays along with media on the subject.
Second…because Turner and coordinator Manny Diaz aren’t cemented in their position thinking. “I don’t think they’ve put anything in yet,” Jones said about special package plans. Except his grin signaled something different than his word. “They may mix it up in the fall, who knows?!” he teased.
“Coach Diaz always has a game plan, we learn something new every day from that guy. And I feel he’ll put me at end, just because I really want to! Just one or two times!” Or more.
Word must have gotten around about all the proposed plans for Jones, and contributed to his pre-season selections for all-this and –that. This also has to be on professional minds as they schedule scouting stops to evaluate ’16 prospects. A fellow already of NFL size who can play inside or outside with equal impact is someone to watch.
And, potentially, pick next spring. Jones appreciates he is on the pro radar already, and is prepared for questions from now until January about whether or not this is his last year in a Bulldog uniform.
“You know, it comes across my mind,” he said. “But you never really think about that because you know anything can happen through this year and to next year. So I just try to worry about what is going on right now.”
So what exactly is going on right now with Jones? Lifting. Running. Watching the diet. Doing any sorts of summer drill a defensive lineman is allowed to tune-up the technique for August. Yeah, he will go into camp and then season a first-team Dog at last.
“I want to out-work myself, continually grind. Because I don’t want to think anybody is outworking me. It’s more the mental aspect of being great.”