The senior defensive tackle improved pass rush

For the past several years under DT Coach Chris Kiffin's tutelage, the Rebel defensive line has been disruptive and blessed with players like Robert Nkemdiche, Issac Gross, Bryan Bennett and Woody Hamilton. Now, along with Breeland Speaks and two or three more, it's D.J. Jones' turn to shine in his senior season after a really good transition year last season from JUCO ball.

It's like pulling hen's teeth to get senior Defensive Tackle D.J. Jones to talk about himself.

He's just not put together than way. It's team, team, team, team and then, maybe, just maybe, you can get him to talk about his game.

"We are young, experience-wise, at the tackle slots, but we are a group that wants to work hard and get better. We want to learn all the little things about being great defensive tackles - all of us," he stated humbly, which is the only way he knows how to respond. "We know we have to be the guys to plug things up and make plays. It starts with us.

"The coaches are praising us right now, but while that motivates us, it doesn't mean much if we aren't ready to produce when fall comes around. I think we will be."

Like all junior college transfers, even the ultra-talented ones like D.J., there is a transition period to senior college football, especially the SEC, but Jones picked things up quicker than most.

"The intensity level - in the weight room, at practice, in games, in the film room - is much higher. You have to bring it all, all the time. If you don't, you are going to lose," Jones noted. "That mentality, to work hard, was not hard for me to pick up, but I have to admit, it took me about three games into the season to really start playing like I know I can. I got hit in the mouth a few times and that's all it took."

Speaks and Jones are expected to be the anchors of the Rebel defense in 2016, but anyone who has followed Kiffin for any length of times knows he will rotate at least four defensive tackles, and he prefers five. Where does Jones feel the Rebel DTs stand in regard to that type of rotation?

"Austrian Robinson and Ross Donnelly and Benito Jones all learn quickly and that is why they are going to be good. One, they are smart and two, they want to be good," he commented. "Ross is making plays left and right behind me and Austrian and Benito are learning the 3-technique behind Breeland and are putting it all together quickly.

"They pick your brain and want to learn and that tells me a lot."

And Jones knows the ace up Kiffin's sleeve as well.

Jones' monster spring, as Kiffin called it, will turn into a monster fall.

"We will have Issac back, so that will be huge for us while some of these young guys continue to grow," he smiled. "He's our secret weapon."

Jones said he is blessed playing next to Marquis Haynes at defensive end.

"Marquis comes to work every day and he is as good off the edge as anyone in the country. Now, he's become a rock in run support too. He's just special," D.J. said. "And I was really proud that (John) Youngblood got the #8 jersey. He deserves is so much. Blood is the perfect guy for that."

After nailing him down, D.J. finally talked about himself a little. What's it going to take for him to be talked about highly next year when draft time comes around?

"I need to get in the best shape of my life. If I do, and if the rest of the DTs do, we won't be stopped," he said. "Right now, I feel real good. I'm in good shape. I want to be 305 pounds. I am 310 now. I'm close. My strength levels are good, I'm moving real well and my pass rush techniques have improved. I'm on track."

D.J. goes against the number one Rebel offensive line daily. His thoughts about the interior of the OL during spring?

"They are young, but they are getting so much better. Javon Patterson, Sean Rawlings, Jordan Sims and Daronte Bouldin have all improved a lot," Jones assessed. "If Jordan gets his hands on you, you are done. He';s a brick wall. Daronte is pure power - he improved a lot. And Javon is just overall very talented. They are going to be fine." 

After spring, what are his final thoughts? 

"We just have to keep working like we worked in spring and we will be fine," he closed.


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