Asked about Alizé Jones the tight end, Brian Kelly answered about Alizé Jones the student.
Because no matter how good Jones looks on Wednesday morning when Notre Dame returns to spring practice, the program’s new No. 86, who’s grown a quarter inch, added five pounds and is in the process of changing his last name to Mack for family reasons, none of it will matter if the junior can’t carry a 2.0 grade point average into the fall semester.
“We want him to continue to work hard in school,” Kelly said. “He’s got to stay focused. He can’t lose focus on the most important things, and he can’t get distracted, and that is graduate and win a championship. Social media, other things that pop up in life can distract you from that end.”
Kelly said he expects Jones to be academically eligible this season.
Jones hasn’t spoken to reporters since revealing his ineligibility last summer, just before the start of training camp. But he has been active on Twitter, supporting the new strength program and his new position coach, offensive coordinator Chip Long.
If Long can dispatch the 6-foot-4 ¾, 245-pound Jones into his offense – the Irish offensive coordinator said he’d like to run double tight end sets about 60 percent of the time – Notre Dame’s offense may have a weapon every bit as good as Equanimeous St. Brown on the outside. It’s difficult to imagine many linebackers running with Jones across formations or many safeties jumping with Jones down the seam.
The tight end position, which returns Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua to go with early enrollee Brock Wright, could use the help. The Irish got 12 receptions from tight ends in 2015, although four of those were Smythe touchdowns. Still, Jones posted 13 receptions himself as a freshman, although he’s yet to score.
“So I just try in my relationship with him to keep him focused, to pay attention to detail,” Kelly said. “If he does those two things – he doesn't have all the traits yet, but if he focuses on those two things, he's going to have a really good spring. Because his physical tools are really, really outstanding.”
That should show during the coming weeks, heading toward the Blue-Gold Game on April 22. It’s not that Jones didn’t practice last season while ineligible, but the coaching staff made a point to limit his work to scout team and deep reserve stuff.
Jones appeared engaged in his supporting role during practices, getting on the field early during training camp and making sure he celebrated with teammates. Still, there’s no question the player who headlined his recruiting class was missing on a major opportunity to push his game, and Notre Dame’s offense, forward.
Tomorrow, Jones gets back in gear.
But staying engaged off the field for the next five months will determine whether or not Jones gets to show that come fall.
“I'm excited for him because he's put himself in a much better position to get to that end of getting on the field,” Kelly said. “But he's got to keep doing that every single day.”