Ravens discover a sleeper in Jones

WESTMINSTER -- Scouring the nation for obscure football talent, the Baltimore Ravens' scouts tend to observe a lot more suspects than prospects. Perhaps a few times per year, a true sleeper is actually discovered. Often, it's a raw, albeit gifted and fairly unknown free agent from a small school with a directional prefix. Rookie outside linebacker Edgar Jones personifies that description.

Undrafted out of little Southeast Missouri in Cape Girardeau, Mo., (population 36,621), the converted defensive end is building a reputation as a promising young pass rusher and has begun to create a buzz among the diehard followers of training camp at McDaniel College.

"A sleeper?" Jones said following practice earlier this week. "I've heard that a ton. I want to be one of those."

Jones began making team officials take a closer look at his No. 64 jersey on game film following a scrimmage against the Washington Redskins.

Jones, 23, sacked Redskins veteran quarterback Mark Brunell, sprinting past blockers to tag Brunell before he could glimpse downfield. And he excelled in pursuit, hustling to chase down a running back in the open field.

Most impressively, the Rayville, La., native never left the field despite the 141-degree, foot-burning heat at field level last weekend at M&T Bank Stadium. He lined up with the first, second and third units without complaint despite the sauna-like conditions.

"Well, he's in shape," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "That was impressive. He's a young man who we're trying to make into a rush outside linebacker. He's a little new to his pass drops, but he's a guy who's an athletic talent.

"He's a big, tall guy who can bend his knees. It's unusual for a guy to be able to change directions like he can as high-hipped as he is. He's definitely a talent that we're watching."

Jones wound up at Division I-AA Southeast Missouri after initially committing to Southern Mississippi out of high school. However, he was a late academic qualifier, which kept him from accepting a scholarship to Division I-A recruiters at LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech.

A three-time all-state basketball player and a four-time all-district receiver and defensive end, there were no questions about Jones' athleticism. He once scored 59 points in a game.

At Southeast Missouri, he emerged as a Division I-AA All-American who led the nation a year ago with a dozen sacks.

Jones was one of three players from the Ohio Valley Conference to be selected to the Magnolia Gridiron Classic, an all-star game in Jackson, Miss., geared toward college players with NFL potential that aren't in bowl games or playoffs. He wound up being named the MVP of the game, registering four sacks.

"It turned out to be a great thing that I didn't qualify right away," Jones said. "I had a really good experience at Southeast Missouri."

When Jones graduated from high school, he was 6-foot-3, but weighed only 209 pounds. Four years later, Jones left college bulked up to a lean 265 pounds.

"That campus food and that weight program really paid off," Jones said. "I'm still able to run at this weight, too."

Last season, Jones led the Redhawks with 18 tackles for losses and registered three multiple-sack games.

Now, Jones has to make the adjustment of fitting into the Ravens' defensive system as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end.

It's a familiar process for the NFL's top-ranked defense, which has converted several past college defensive ends to a standup position, including: Peter Boulware, Terrell Suggs, Adalius Thomas, Jarret Johnson and Cornell Brown.

"The transition has been going pretty good, and it helps that my last coach in college had an uptempo practice," Jones said. "I had never been a linebacker before, but, once in a while, I dropped back into coverage.

"I've made a couple of mistakes, but they're things I can correct. I'm not worried about it. I'm going to come out here and do my best and put my faith in the Lord."

The Ravens have been so enthused about Jones' potential that they're even considering experimenting with cross-training him at strongside linebacker in addition to his workload at rush end.

"Edgar is progressing pretty nicely," linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald said. "Mike Pettine has done a good job working with him. We're trying to accelerate everything with him, and we've been impressed with his pass drops.

"We're optimistic based on what we've seen from him in terms of athleticism, leverage and strength-wise that we might be able to move him over to Sam linebacker and take a look at him over there as well."

The team needs a situational pass rusher with Dan Cody sidelined since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and rookie draft pick Antwan Barnes recovering from a sprained ankle. Could Jones beat the odds and make the active roster, or is he more likely to wind up on the practice squad?

"I'm getting there, I just hope to make the team," Jones said. "It looks like I keep improving. It's a lot to take in, but it's coming naturally to me.

"People make mistakes, but I just don't want to mess up on the same things again. This is very exciting to be here."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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