Ben Jones grew up in Alabama and was a standout center at Georgia, but he's certainly not afraid to set foot in Green Bay.
Since high school, Jones has gone through pregame wramups in bare feet.
"I do the full warm-up barefooted," he said at the Scouting Combine. "I'm definitely a country boy. I don't like wearing shoes or anything like that. I did it in high school because we'd come in after school and take a nap before we walked the field. They'd usually wake me up — I'd be asleep — and I'd just walk straight out there, no matter rain, sleet, snow or what. It kind of stuck with me."
Would he do that in Green Bay, on some frosty December night on the famed Frozen Tundra?
"Definitely. That's not a problem at all," he said with a laugh. "My feet have alligator skin. They're tough."
If teams are looking for a tough guy with a proven track record for being a model of consistency in the pivot, they need not look any further than the Bulldogs' standout. A vital cog to the offense's success since he stepped into the lineup as a freshman, Jones would close out his career third on the school career-record chart with 49 starting assignments.
For three seasons, defensive tackles in the Southeastern Conference were befuddled in their attempts to escape the Georgia tenacious blocker in their quests to penetrate the backfield, only to have No. 61 preventing them from reaching their goal.
When those opponents lined up to face Jones in 2011, they noticed something a bit different about him — he had changed to jersey No. 60 for his final campaign.
His father, Steve, was a standout prep and small-college football player, and his number was 60. Steve Jones was killed in a helicopter crash while working for his own forestry company.
"My first three years of college, I wore No. 61 because No. 60 was taken (by Clint Boling)," he said. "My last year I wanted to dedicate to my dad.
"I was 10. I remember sitting in there working on a school project with my mom and the preacher knocks on the door with my aunt. I was like, ‘Why are they knocking on the front door?' because we have an old farmhouse. We never used the front of the house unless it was Thanksgiving or something. So when I saw that, I ran upstairs, changed and said, ‘Why is the preacher here?' I came in, looked and my mom was crying. I knew right away something was wrong. From then on, it definitely sticks with me. It's a time of my life, I've learned from it and it's made me a better man."
While his father has always been in his thoughts, Steve Jones has been at every Georgia game this season in spirit. "This year has been amazing getting to wear his number my senior year," Jones said. "If we had gone 1-11, it would have still been special, but to have the season we have had going to play for the Southeastern Conference championship, winning the SEC East, beating Georgia Tech, I could not have asked for a better senior season for me. To be able to go out there and honor my dad this way has been a dream come true."
For Jones, it's a fitting end to a great career, but only at the collegiate level. Based on his performance during his time at Georgia, scouts are predicting greater things for him at the professional level, as he is being favorable compared to Baltimore's Matt Birk, one of the league's elder statesman but still a role model for those that thrive for consistency at the center position.
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Having excelled academically at Bibb County, Jones graduated early and enrolled at Georgia in time to compete with the football team during spring drills. He was so impressive in that brief showing that he earned Most Improved Offensive Lineman honors, despite having yet to suit up for the Bulldogs.
The coaches wanted to bring this true freshman along slowly, but by the fourth game of the 2008 campaign, Jones was inserted into the starting lineup for the Arizona State clash. For the next 49 games, no other Bulldog would play at center other than the Centreville, Ala., product. He earned Freshman All-American honors and was named to the Academic All-Southeastern Conference team. After delivering 11 knockdowns and helping the team gain 520 yards vs. Kentucky, he was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his performance.
Jones started all 13 games in 2009, receiving All-SEC second-team honors from the league's coaches. Ten of the team's 17 rushing scores came via touchdown-resulting blocks delivered by the Georgia center.
As a junior, the All-SEC center posted a league-best 15 touchdown-resulting blocks for interior linemen. Despite playing on a line that gave up 25 sacks, just one came over the center position, on a season that spanned 793 plays.
Jones concluded his career as the Southeastern Conference's elite center. He was twice named the league's Offensive Lineman of the Week (vs. Auburn and New Mexico). He was on the field for all 1,016 offensive snaps, playing a major role in protecting Georgia passers that accounted for 37 touchdown tosses. He received an ultimate honor prior to the Bulldogs' meeting vs. Michigan State at the Outback Bowl, the UGA center was selected to the university's "Team of the Decade."
Jones ranks third in school history with a string of 49 starting assignments for the Bull-dogs…The four-time Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll selection was also selected to various All-SEC teams during his four seasons in the lineup…Was also named a Freshman All-American after taking over the pivot position in 2008…Switched from jersey #61 to #60 prior to his senior season, to honor his father, Steve, a former collegiate star, who was killed in a helicopter crash when Ben was age ten.
Earned All-Southeastern Conference first-team honors from The NFL Draft Report and rated the nation's second-best draft prospect at his position by that scouting information service…Added second-team All-SEC accolades from the Associated Press, Phiol Steele and the league's coaches…The Rimington Trophy finalist (nation's top center) was also named to Georgia's "Team of the Decade"…Earned All-American first-team recognition from ESPN.com, Yahoo Sports and Rivals.com…The team captain started all fourteen games at center, where he recorded fifteen touchdown-resulting blocks and capably protected the pocket as the Bulldogs threw for 37 more scores…Was the only player on the team to play in every offensive snap (1,016 plays)…Recipient of the team's Vince Dooley Most Valuable Player of the Year Award…One of two players to receive the Leon Farmer Award for dedication to strength & conditioning and one of three offensive players to be named a Coaches Leadership Award winner…For the fourth consecutive year, Jones was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll and the Georgia Athletic Director's Honor Roll for the fall semester…Was selected SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week following a 45-7 victory over No. 24 Auburn, where the Bulldogs had 528 total yards including 304 rushing with two tailbacks going over 100 yards. Jones graded out at 85% and had ten dominator blocks while starting his 45th game at center for the Bulldogs. He anchored an offense that scored at least 40 points for the fourth time this season as the team's rushing yardage total was the most on the ground by the Bulldogs since 2009...Again chosen SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week following the Bulldogs' win over New Mexico State, as he anchored an offensive line that did not allow any sacks of Aaron Murray, as the QB was able to complete 18 of 23 passes for 238 yards in two quarters and a career-high five touchdown passes, which ties a school record. His blocking skills saw the team amass the most total yards (627) and the most points (63) in the Mark Richt era during the Bulldogs' seventh straight win. Even with their top four tailbacks out with injuries, Georgia was still able to rack up 258 yards rushing and have its fourth 100-yard receiver of the season… Was also a member of the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Trophy watch lists…Chosen to the inaugural Pony Express Award watch list as a tandem with teammate Cordy Glenn… Recipient of the team's True Grit Award for offense and attended school on the Richard Young Football Scholarship…Was named to UGA's Victor's Club ten times during the season for his outstanding play on the offensive line…Georgia's front wall allowed 33 sacks for the season, yet none were charged to Jones.
Jones earned All-SEC second-team honors from The NFL Draft Report and was a fourth-team choice by Phil Steele…Played in thirteen games, starting twelve contests, as he was suspended for a half game vs. Colorado for a late clipping penalty one week earlier vs. Mississippi State…Recipient of the team's Coaches Leadership Award for offense…Was an SEC Academic Honor Roll selection and was the recipient of the Heyward Allen Foot-ball Scholarship…Helped the offense average 385.00 total yards per game, including an average of 242.38 aerial yards…Jones started the 29th game of his career and anchored an offense that accumulated 547 total yards during a 43-0 shutout of Vanderbilt, earning SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week accolades. He posted a team-high 19 knockdowns and helped the Bulldogs control the ball for 37:15 minutes of the game, combining with his teammates to give up no sacks to QB Aaron Murray, Jones graded out at 83%, including a perfect 100% on passing plays. This was Georgia's second straight 40-point game and second consecutive game with at least 400 total yards…Also received Player of the Game honors after registering ten knockdowns while anchoring an offense that racked up 450 total yards on offense and 55 points vs. Idaho State.
Jones was named All-SEC second-team by the league's coaches…Chosen to the SEC Academic Honor Roll and was a member of the fall 2009 Georgia Athletic Director's Honor Roll….Recipient of the team's True Grit Award at conclusion of spring drills…Underwent surgery in late April on his left thumb at St. Mary's Hospital, but was fully recovered by the season opener, despite suffering an ankle sprain in fall camp…Went on to start all thirteen games at center…Delivered ten touchdown-resulting blocks for a unit that averaged 362.15 yards per game…Had perhaps his best performance in helping Georgia tally 308 yards of offense vs. South Carolina, as quarterback Joe Cox completed a career-high 17 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns, while Georgia scored all six times it was inside their opponent's 20-yard line.
Jones was named Freshman All-American first-team by College Football News, adding second-team honors from The Sporting News and Phil Steele…Chosen Freshman All-SEC by the league's coaches…Added SEC Academic Honor Roll and Georgia Athletic Director's Honor Roll distinction for the fall semester…Played in thirteen games, taking over center duties in the fourth contest vs. Arizona State…Produced twelve touchdown resulting blocks and 86 knockdowns for a team that ranked second in the league and 22nd nationally in total offense (426.00 ypg), leading the SEC while placing 16th in the NCAA in passing offense (277.69 ypg)…Led a front wall that finished 21st in the major college ranks for fewest sacks allowed (1.31 spg; 17 total)…The true freshman helped pave the way for the Bulldogs to pile up 443 offensive yards without any turnovers vs. Louisiana State… elected SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week as part of an offensive line that helped Georgia account for 520 total offensive yards on 57 attempts, an average of 9.1 yards per play, in the Bulldogs' 42-38 win at Kentucky…Jones was part of an offensive line that included three freshmen and two sophomores.
2009 Season…Missed part of spring drills in late April after Jones underwent surgery on his left thumb at St. Mary's Hospital, after he had suffered some damaged ligaments in a scrimmage…Sat out an August 29th fall scrimmage due to an ankle sprain.
5.44 in the 40-yard dash…1.83 10-yard dash…3.02 20-yard dash…4.74 20-yard shuttle…7.95 three-cone drill…30 ?-inch vertical jump…8'9" broad jump…Bench pressed 225 pounds 29 times…32 ?-inch arm length…9 5/8-inch hands…78 1/8-inch wingspan.
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Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. At NFL Scouting, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.