Ten plays? 20? 30?
Consistent throughout? A mixed bag?
The reality is, no one knows how well or how often recently recovered Irish nose tackle Jarron Jones will play Friday afternoon against Ohio State, his first game action since suffering a Lisfranc injury in mid-November 2014.
Jones thereafter lost his 2015 regular season to a torn MCL, the result of a mid-August camp injury – after the whistle and inconsequential to the play – caught on camera and broadcasted by Showtime this fall.
Jones hasn’t played football against anyone other than his teammates since Nov. 14, 2014, but he, his head coach, and Jones’ interior line mates are certain ample progress has since been made. Especially this month.
“A long way. A long way,” said Brian Kelly of Jones’ progress over the last month. “He’s moving very well. We’re almost back to (focusing on) where his weaknesses are (rather than the injury). He plays high sometimes. We’re not talking about his knee, his ankle, we’re talking about, ‘Hey, get your pads down.’ And that’s a good thing.”
His pads down and his mojo up.
“I think for him the biggest thing is gaining back the confidence,” said fellow defensive lineman Isaac Rochell. “After not playing for two years, your ego is kind of down, you doubt yourself, but after he gets into the swing of things, gets into the game, makes some tackles, he’ll start to get his mojo back and feel a little bit better about his game.”
Jones admitted he’s only recently begun feeling good about football after his series of dispiriting injuries.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Jones told reporters on Dec. 21, his most recent availability with the media. “Another year sitting out. I didn’t want to go through that. I sat out last spring (recovering from Lisfranc surgery). I sat out my freshman year (as a redshirt). Now another year with no football? You can imagine how that feels, having everything taken away from you when your whole goal of being here is being able to contribute.”
Jones offered support he received – from teammates, trainers, coaches, friends, and even professors buoyed him to fight his way back. It’s about to pay off in the form of unexpected playing time prior to the conclusion of Team 127’s season.
THAT FIRST HIT
Jones’ classmate Sheldon Day is the dean of Notre Dame’s defensive front. A four-year contributor and three-year starter, Day has suffered his share of knee and ankle injuries and knows well the mental aspect of recovery is as important as the mandatory physical.
“It’s more about knowing where your feet are,” said Day. “Being able to move laterally without pain. He’s still trying to get his mobility back. He doesn’t look as good as when he’s moving. “
Day however offered that there was a moment back in South Bend that Jones appeared to be broaching his former self.
“We were in pass rush and we know Jarron is a bull rusher with long arms. I saw him go to full extension and run his feet (through the blocker). Everything finally clicked, and ever since then he’s been on a roll. He’s stepping everything up and preparing to play.”
Jones noted prior to Christmas that the staff pushed him from the outset of bowl prep, never putting him in a walk-through situation but rather getting him into (upper body) contact to knock off ample rust
“I feel like I’m doing a good job,” said Jones. “But practice is nothing like a game so we’ll have to see when I get out there.”
His long, frustrating wait nears its end.