It all starts there, according to Jones, who also wants to be “great.” But mostly he wants to be a part of a “great” defense, and also a “great” team overall.
That’s a word that might be considered overused. But Jones believes in what he is saying. And he thinks the Rebels will back it up.
“I feel like we’ve got a chance to be a great team in this conference,” said Jones, who played in nine games as a freshman in 2013, starting four of them. “We’ve got great leaders on defense and offense. We’ve got playmakers all across the board. I feel we should be a top 10 defense in the country.”
There’s another important word. Playmakers. The Rebels have more of them, according to Jones. And that depth is also a key to whatever success Ole Miss can have in 2014.
“I feel like Mike (Hilton) and Senquez (Golson) are going to be good for us and will be great leaders. Cliff Coleman will be a senior, and we can count on him. We’ve got depth now. We can run more than two or three guys (out there on the field) in each game. We’ve got guys that have come in like Tee Shepard. I feel like he will be a great asset there. I feel like he’s going to be a great player.”
The 6-foot-2, 182-pound Jones enters the fall as a potential starter at boundary cornerback. He’s tall, athletic, and has good ball skills. He also has good speed.
Those nine games he played in last season helped him as he heads into year two, he said.
“I feel like them putting me in games helped me gain more experience,” said Jones, who had 27 total tackles with 20 of them solos. “It really helped me to get used to it. Really just going out and playing in the games will get you ready for the next one, for the next year.”
The coaches didn’t mind throwing him into the proverbial fire when he finally got on the field. Against Alabama in a road contest when the Crimson Tide was ranked No. 1 in the country, Jones made his debut, went out and made four tackles that game, with one of them being a solo stop.
He continued to play well last season and became more comfortable with the game at this level. But it’s a big jump from Mississippi Class 2A football to the Southeastern Conference.
“It’s not comparable, except that it’s called football,” Jones said of the two. “It’s totally different. It’s faster. You’ve got all 11 guys that are fast. You aren’t going to outrun anybody. It all comes down to technique and they help you play your technique better.”
So he worked on that and more in the offseason. He said spring and summer have been beneficial for him and his progress.
“I felt I had a good spring. I wouldn’t say great,” Jones said, not quite comfortable using that chosen word again for his performance during the second semester of his freshman school year. “Mike (Hilton) and Senquez (Golson) remind me every day that you’ve got to have a short mind when you’re at your position. Through the summer we worked out and did extra. We had way more guys this summer than the summer I got here doing extra work. So I feel like we got guys really just locking in right now.”
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said he’s seen a lot of positive changes in Jones already in two days of camp.
“D.J. went against the best receiver in the country (Laquon Treadwell) all spring and I think that helped him a lot,” Wommack said. “Derrick has improved a lot. He saw that he had to get stronger, and I think he did that in the summer. His change of direction is good and he’s learning quickly.”
Jones said he wants to keep improving and learning so he can reach his goals. Like intercepting passes, which eluded him last season.
“Me personally, I have a few goals,” he said. “Catch picks is one. I didn’t get a pick last year. I’d say my goal is five (interceptions in 2014). But I just want our defense to be one of the top defenses in the country. If we do that, it’ll all be good.”
Because even though the Rebels won more games last year than they had in four seasons, that’s still not good enough for Derrick Jones.
“I’m not satisfied with winning eight games,” he said. “I want to win 10 games, 11 games, and be one of the top teams in this conference like I know we can be. That's what we all want to be.”