Coach Barry Alvarez' goal is for his team to get better each week, and that certainly didn't happen last week. But that doesn't hold true for every single player. There were some positive signs amidst a lackluster performance. One of them was Darius Jones, the defensive end that came alive with two sacks (three tackles-for-loss) and got constant pressure in the backfield from the end and tackle positions.
It's been a long time coming for the 6-3, 278-pound sophomore, who was expected by many people to be an immediate impact player coming out of high school at Beloit (Wis.) Memorial, but struggled with position changes and injuries.
Jones initially reported as a linebacker, but continued to gain weight at a rate that prevented him from playing anywhere in that unit. He was scheduled to start at defensive end last year, but was injured in the pregame warm-ups against Virginia. He then broke his right hand twice, the second time on the last play of the Fresno State game. It led to him taking a medical redshirt season.
He was listed as the starter at right end entering the season, but was beat out for the position by junior Erasmus James. But Jones has seen a ton of playing time, rotating between the end and tackle positions.
He will continue to be a huge part of the defensive line rotation in future weeks, particularly after his impressive performance against Northern Illinois.
"I feel a lot more confident, being able to come out and make plays," Jones said. "I've been waiting a long time for this time to come, but now it's here and hopefully there will be a lot more times."
Jones' solid performance last week came despite having continued problems with his right hand. He sprained it in the West Virginia game, and had it taped up for NIU, but decided during warm-ups it didn't feel comfortable enough. So he threw on the club he practiced with all week, to prevent from tweaking it any more.
"I had to protect it, because of the long season," Jones said. "But it's quite different. At times, when you think you will be able to tackle somebody, you can't, because you just have a nub and you can't really grab with your hand at all."
The hand situation is week-to-week, and he might have to wear the club again vs. Arizona Saturday morning.
Jones credits a lot of his progress to his "linebacker mentality," and his love of watching film. He feels he's always gained an advantage in the film room, dating back to high school, when most of his teammates didn't care about that aspect of preparation, and Jones could often be found in the coaches' offices breaking down tape.
He still looks at offenses with a critical eye and a linebacker's mentality, although his position has changed.
"At linebacker, you're used to being able to see everything. On the line, you can only see two or three things," Jones aid. "I think I handled that adjustment better than some people, being able to react more so than read. I caught on pretty quick…(but) you will always have that linebacker mentality. You are always looking at the offensive formations and tendencies, and what they're going to run and things like that. But not being able to see the whole field does kind of hurt you being down (on the defensive line)."
As Jones' confidence has increased, so has his chatter on the field. Jones, known for being the biggest jokester in the locker room, is starting to get more vocal on the field as he has success and gains confidence.
"That's my true personality," Jones said. I'm pretty loud spoken. You can pretty much hear me wherever I am."
Jones' confidence soaring after big game
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