It feels great, even. Because now when this redshirted freshman suits-up for a practice or scrimmage, he’s competing for real 2017 snaps on the Mississippi State defensive line. Something Jones definitely intends to earn as he keeps working his way towards varsity status.
“I’m excited about it. Once I get more comfortable with the plays I’ll start rising a little bit.”
If informal reports of what the Starkville kid did while working as a scout squad Dog are accurate, Jones will rise more than a little bit. Exactly how high? That might be moot as a point given that new coordinator Todd Grantham gives depth charts about as much respect as he wants his defense to give a cornered quarterback.
But all indications are come opening weekend Jones will assuredly be primed for playing time. Right on schedule, if a year longer than this ambitious Bulldog wanted when he was tabbed to sit out 2016.
“It makes me more anxious to get on the field and play. I take a lot of pride. I’m just ready to rep my city.”
Jones is ready physically. Though his listed spring weight of 270 is a bit down from what he carried upon enrollment, Jones is an inch higher at 6-4. In that respect, sitting a season has been a benefit he figures.
“The redshirt year was great. I got a chance to get stronger and faster. And kind of just watch and get more comfortable with the speed and level of play on the college level.” The mental speed, Jones means. As good a level as he played at with Starkville High, moving up meant speeding up how he sees stuff.
“It kind of gave me a display of what I need to do to make plays. And knowing how strong and fast they are, it gave me a scale of the competition.”
Thing is, Jones was close to activation as a true freshman. He was, and is, part of a stellar defensive line recruiting group with Jeffery Simmons and Marquiss Spencer. Those two were activated; Jones drew the redshirt assignment.
Jones said he was fine with it at the time, and now too. “Nah, man. I was happy for them. And I actually got more excited when they made plays because they were freshmen.” At the same time, a competitive kid like Jones…well, he would have been even happier getting into games himself, right?
“It kind of makes you impatient. Because you want to be a part of that rotation and get in there and play with your brothers. It definitely humbles you, though. So I it was a good experience.”
Realistically, since Simmons was playing on the nose, the choice had been between Jones and Spencer to bulk-up one of the outside spot. Now it’s spring. Even in a normal spring jobs are open for camp competition. This isn’t a normal spring with a new coordinator and every d-line Dog has a blank slate to be filled in.
“So that kind of amps-up the competition between us,” Jones said. Competition within the context of learning a revised sort of system, at that. In the four practices before Mississippi State took a spring break Grantham was busy installing schemes and sets.
Beginning today Dogs are expected to put teaching into action. Jones agrees it has helped the general transition that Coach Brian Baker was retained to mentor the defensive line.
“Coach Baker, we have a very good relationship. I have a lot of respect for him, he’s a good teacher.”
Baker also has a good group for teaching. Simmons made his immediate mark as a Freshman All-SEC. Spencer was sound in his rotation role. Now mix-in Jones along with fellow redshirts Tre Brown and James Jackson, still-young veterans like Fletcher Adams, Braxton Hoyette, Grant Harris, Kendell Jones; and now the influx of fresh transfer big bodies?
Yeah. Keep the competition going…all the way into and on through 2017.
“We have very high expectations,” Jones said. “I plan to be a big play-maker this year and bring a lot of energy to the defense.”