Keeping Up With Mr. Jones

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The soap opera surrounding Dwight Jones began on Signing Day 2007 and delivered more twists and turns than old "Dallas" reruns up until the end of the 2008 season. But with the past behind him, the sophomore receiver is set to prove that he's worth the plethora of antacid pills for those that followed his journey.

It all started with Jones' decision to sign with North Carolina after leaning heavily towards Clemson on Feb. 7, 2007. That provided plenty of drama for Tar Heel fans, but little did they know this roller coaster ride was in its infant stages. Next came news that the Burlington, N.C. native had failed to gain admission to UNC for the '07 season and would spend a season at Hargrave Military Academy.

However, Jones left Hargrave after the fall semester and eventually decided to enroll at Division II Valdosta State for the 2008 season after failing to qualify academically for North Carolina a second time. However, one week into North Carolina's preseason camp last August, Inside Carolina broke the news that the NCAA and UNC officials discovered a mistake in the enrollment process, which indicated that Jones was in fact qualified.

The hoopla died down after Jones slowly worked his way into the Tar Heel program, but the coaching staff's decision to play the lanky freshman in the ninth game of the season became a topic of debate throughout the fan base – why waste a red-shirt year with two-thirds of the schedule already completed?

As it turns out, not even Jones can answer that question.

"It was the coaches' call," Jones said following practice on Thursday. "I was young, so I still didn't know the playbook, but the coaches saw that I was working hard in practice and decided to put me in. I wasn't expecting to play, but it was the coaches' call. I never asked why they decided to play me. I guess they just wanted to get me ready for [this] season."

That last sentence makes sense, considering that UNC lost five wide receivers to graduation and the NFL Draft in '08. After a strong showing during spring ball, Jones appears to be entrenched as the starter at the "X" receiver spot – the same position that first-round draft pick Hakeem Nicks assumed during his career in Chapel Hill.

Nicks may be suiting up for the New York Giants right now, but his legacy carries on at the Kenan Football Center. Jones spent time dissecting game film of his former teammate on Thursday morning.

"I was watching film, but I was just watching him – to see how he plays, how he comes off the ball, the routes he runs and how he responds to different defenses," Jones said. "Playing behind a great player like that really helped me a lot, just to see the techniques and different things that he did out there on the field."

Jones keyed on two different areas this offseason, one being getting off the ball and into his route effectively. At the high school level, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder could manhandle his opponents. As you can imagine, things are a little more challenging at the collegiate level.

"It's a little bit more difficult here – you've got to have better technique and run better routes," Jones said.

The other focus point was in lengthening his strides while running his routes. With such long legs, Jones indicated that he has always shortened his steps on any routes that included a break. The problem is that defenders could watch his strides to get an idea of what kind of route he was running, thereby making it easier to cover him.

By keeping his strides long regardless of his route, the coaching staff is banking that Jones will become even more of a lethal weapon on the edge.

"It doesn't make me feel like I'm faster, but it makes the defensive backs think that I'm going deep every time," Jones said. "But when I used to do it the old way, the DB's still had trouble. But if the coaches tell me to do it, I know it will make me a better player and so I just listen to them."

Looking at Jones' frame may lead you to believe that he is your prototypical possession receiver, but several of his defensive teammates have lauded his ability to turn on the jets with the ball in his hands.

"A lot of people always said I was slow, but I don't know why," Jones said. "It must look like I'm slow, but I'm really not. I played against guys in high school and at Hargrave [Military Academy] that ran 4.4 40s, but I never had any problems running past them or keeping up with them… When I'm playing, I feel like I'm the fastest player on the field, though."

The former Cummings High School standout clocked a 4.5 40 this offseason, but pointed out that Nicks was never known for his blazing 40 times, either.

"Hakeem wasn't that fast, but you could see when he got the ball in his hands, people hardly ever caught him," Jones said. "Once you get in the game and the juices start flowing and the adrenaline is pumping, you can turn into a whole different player."

With the journey that Jones has endured over the past two-and-a-half years, you might think that he's determined to make a personal statement this fall at Kenan Stadium, but that's not the case.

"I just want to win the ACC," Jones said. "I really don't have any individual goals that I want to accomplish. My goal was to get here and that's been accomplished. Now I just want to contribute and help the team in any way possible."

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