It indeed is a fine position Chris Jones occupies. He has put in three Mississippi State seasons on the defensive line, and attracted the attention of NFL scouts in the process. What makes everything that much better here in December is, Jones is under no pressure to hurry his decision to stay or go.
He has requested an evaluation of his potential 2016 draft status, one of the five Bulldogs allowed to go through this evaluation process. “I did that just to see where it’s at,” Jones said.
“I won’t know if I’m leaving or not until I discuss again with Coach Mullen. And if I feel comfortable enough that it’s OK for me to leave, then I’ll make that decision after the bowl game.”
Until then? Jones is enjoying getting back on the practice field as Mississippi State prepares for its December 30 date in the Belk Bowl. After practicing for and playing in two bowl games already, maybe this could get a bit boring for a Bulldog.
“It feels great. I kind of missed it. I’m back on my team, back with my family.” Several of those ‘family’ members couldn’t resist getting in on the interview action following Saturday’s practice, too (see attached video). It reflected a pretty light-hearted team attitude coming out of day-two in campus camp.
Speaking of ‘light’, Jones has not had to exert himself over-much these first two practices. He spends most of his time watching his fellow defensive linemen in drills, or observing the 11-on-11 periods so other defensive tackles can take his snaps. Jones barely breaks a sweat doing a few two-minute periods as first-team left tackle or a couple of demonstration drills.
But then what at this stage of his career is there for Jones to work on? The answer is…more than one would think.
“Technique issues. You know, the smaller things. My hand placement, my footwork. Things like that.”
Jones has always said he is his toughest critic, and it’s true. Even getting him to point at progress isn’t easy. But, after the junior season, Jones will agree he raised his game overall after becoming a starter.
“I think I made a huge jump. Just as talent-wise, I think I was more technical this year than last year, I think I was more focused, more a leader.” That, he said, was necessary because somebody had to replace Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones off the ’14 defensive front.
Oh, and somebody had to help bring the other new starting tackle along in ’15 as well. Then again Jones wonders if Nick James—who is watching practices so far with a pectoral muscle issue—is really hurt? “I don’t know what Nick’s got going on! I miss Nick, I told him he needs to come back!” More seriously, Jones himself hurts that he won’t get to play one more game with senior defensive end Ryan Brown. Surgery to plug a stress fracture with a screw will keep the defensive line’s old Dog out of the Belk Bowl.
“Ryan being like the grandpa of the group, the leader,” Jones said. “Just seeing him out I hate he can’t play his last game.”
Will the Belk Bowl also be Jones’ last Mississippi State game? That’s what most observers figure already, and Jones has said before he always thought he was ready even coming out of Houston High School. He isn’t saying yea or nay just yet…
…but it’s most definitely on his mind. Of course, “You know it’s my future so I have to think about it every day!”