Jones Does a 180 in 365

One year ago today, Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones had three tackles and a blocked field goal to his career credit. He was likewise less than two weeks removed from scout team duties as the Irish began late October preparations for the Naval Academy.

Exactly 365 days later, the only similarity that can be found between Jones then, and Jones now, is a penchant for blocking kicks. Everything else -- from his game week preparation, to his attention to detail off the field, to his production on Saturdays, is polar opposite.

Oh, and he also has an apparently all-important visor, courtesy a wager won with his head coach.

"I either had to play over 50 plays (in one game) or block another kick, but that happened against UNC where I did both," said Jones of his newly earned helmet adornment. "I didn't get two (in reference to accomplishing both aspects of the challenge), but in practice I’m allowed to wear a dark visor. That’s winning."

Notre Dame is winning partly because its defense's biggest question mark entering the season -- the defensive line -- and the unit's biggest enigma, Jones, have exceeded all reasonable expectations.

The six-foot-five, 315-pound junior nose tackle has posted 26 tackles including five for lost yardage, with seven official quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, and of course, a pair of blocked kicks, his third and fourth in less than two seasons played.

Jones' best game as a collegian came against the best collection of opponents he's faced, defending champion Florida State, a game in which he notched three tackles for loss among his six stops.

The difference between Jones the Top 10 Irish performer of 2014, and the wandering, disjointed, distant backup of 365 days ago is staggering.

"I think it's the natural progression of a young man growing up," said Kelly of Jones. "Growing up off the field. There is always, for me there's always been that direct correlation to when you're coming together off the field, you generally see that happen on the field. If you're a disaster off the field, you're usually a disaster on the field. If you're off schedule, in other words, if you're not doing the right thing, staying up late, and not taking care of yourself, and not organizing your life, it usually shows itself somewhere along the line.

"I just think his maturity, being here at Notre Dame, being in this environment, I think all those things are coming together for him and we're starting to see that transition on the football field as well."

After being thrust into action last November, Jones admitted he often struggled with the grind of college football, at one point noting he'd have preferred to stay home with his friends to watch his 2012 Irish teammates play rather than travel with the squad as a true freshman when he knew he'd not be used (as a likely redshirt).

"Last year I was a lot more immature," Jones said. "I also looked at practice as just something to get through. (Now) I wake up in the morning, have class, practice, and now it’s like another chance to play.

"Just being in the game…because like when you get your first action you realize you have some improving to do. The Rice game, I felt like probably was my worst game of the season, but it was also the first game of the season. My goal was to get better and better each week. That’s what I’m trying to do."

The genial giant realizes that talk of daily improvement and, in fact, interview requests weren't plausible just 52 weeks ago, a time when Jones played only because starting nose guard Louis Nix decided not to vs. the Naval Academy.

"I mean, really it was just like, 'Oh, another week on scout team. Help me, Jesus,' Jones said of his lot in life prior to last year's preparations for Navy. "That’s all it was. (But Navy) was actually the week I started working back with the defense. I came to practice at that time with the intention to get better, stay consistent and having an actual focus in practice. I feel like a lot has changed from then until now."

Jones' transformation, while extreme, isn't necessarily unique. He's not the only non-contributor on game days to thus lose focus during game week.

"I think when you're dealing with a man who is sitting behind an All-American, sometimes it's hard to get that same kind of intensity," said Kelly of Jones last season. "Once you get your opportunity and you get some success... I think it just changes your perspective.

"I think you lose a little bit of that edge when you're not out there, and you see it every year with whether it's (freshmen) Jay Hayes or Jhonny Williams, you know, even your back-up quarterback.  Sometimes you want them to have more of a passion.  But when they're not playing, they lose a little bit of that passion sometimes because it's not as fun practicing."

And certainly not as fun as winning defensive MVP honors vs. the defending national champions -- especially with an earned reward attached to his golden dome.

"I kind of always liked the visor.  Look good, play good. That’s my mentality," Jones joke (we think). "That’s why I wear the little tights. The little bands. I like to look good. I don’t wear sleeves. I don’t want to look like a softie when it’s cold out."

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