Arthur Jones: 'I have no regrets'

OWINGS MILLS – Standing inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room, Arthur Jones kept smiling the smile of a man ultra-confident that the worst is behind him and a bright future is beckoning. His toothy smile lit up the room as he recounted his journey to the NFL.

The deeply religious rookie defensive tackle has emerged in a good place in terms of football and personal contentment following one of the roughest years of his life.

"Yeah, I had a tough year," said Jones, a fifth-round selection. "I just smile and look back on it and hopefully this will be a great year for me. My dad being a pastor taught me that with faith you can look to the sky and you can't worry about things.

"I'm in a great position right now with great opportunities that people would give their left foot for. I grew as a man."

Jones had little choice but to remain strong while undergoing significant strife.

His parents' house burnt to the ground during an electrical fire last year that killed the family dog.

Several months later, Jones' mother, Camille, experienced kidney failure stemming from her long bout with diabetes. Her eyesight has diminished considerably, and she remains on a waiting list for a new kidney.

That event was preceded by Jones tearing his left pectoral muscle in February shortly after making the difficult decision to return to Syracuse for his senior season despite an NFL advisory committee designating him as a potential second-round draft pick. The injury required surgery to repair the damage.

Not going in the second round probably cost Jones millions of dollars.

"I got hurt like three weeks after I decided to not enter the draft," said Jones, who also became a father for the first time as his fiancée gave birth to Arthur Jones IV. "I kind of look at it as a blessing. If I was training for the draft and it had happened, then it would have cost me money. It was really a freak accident."

He was prized for his strength, size, mobility and a nasty streak on the field that contrasts his friendly off-field personality.

Jones was even rated as a top 25 prospect by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. following a breakout junior season where he recorded 15 tackles in one dominant performance against Notre Dame. That included four tackles for losses and a sack while lining up at nose guard.

Yet, he still decided to return to school to give hard-nosed new coach Doug Marrone a chance after previously playing for Greg Robinson.

"I knew it was a risk to take, going back to school for my senior year," said Jones, who graduated with a degree in communications and rhetorical studies. "I don't regret anything. Playing under a new coach, I grew as a man."

Ultimately, Jones' poor health wound up derailing his season and depressing his draft stock.

He tore his meniscus in his right knee to cap a season that didn't meet expectations and prevented him from participating in the Senior Bowl all-star game and the NFL scouting combine.

"I had never been injured until my last year," said Jones, who had knee surgery to repair the damage. "I wondered, ‘What happened, why did I deserve this?' It was real humbling."

Then, Jones endured a painfully long wait through two days of the draft before the Ravens tabbed him in the fifth round with the 157th overall pick.

Many draft analysts have characterized Jones as the Ravens' best value pick considering that he's healthy now and was once so highly rated.

"It's over with now, the draft is long over with," Jones said. "I'm happy to be a Raven. All I can do is look forward to now and learn to play like a Raven and get used to game speed."

The Ravens were overjoyed to be able to get Jones that late in the draft.

Obtaining a talented, hungry player tends to spark that kind of reaction.

"Yeah, he slide to the fifth round, we were thrilled to get him there," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We were surprised he was still there. We understand why he was still there, but he does have a lot to prove."

If Jones regrets going back to school and taking such a big financial hit, he doesn't concede it other than acknowledging there was a lot of introspection and second-guessing.

Even Jones' father had advised him to go to the NFL and capitalize on his strong junior campaign.

"A lot of people were like, ‘You're crazy for passing up this opportunity,'" Jones said. "But I see it as God has a plan for me."

The opportunity to try to get to a bowl game for the first time, which the Orangemen fell well short of by only winning four games, and to play football with his younger brother, Chandler, a promising defensive end, was well worth it, in Jones' opinion.

"Where I come from, money isn't everything," Jones said. "That strong family background growing up, turning the program around, having the opportunity to play with my little brother, I don't regret anything.

"It was a learning experience. I grew as a man there. Those guys are going to be all right in the future."

As the son of a pastor and the grandson of a pastor, Jones relies on his Pentecostal faith instilled in him while growing up in Endicott, N.Y., listening to their sermons at Mount Sinai Church of God.

His religious convictions are emblazoned on his barrel chest in the form of a tattoo.

The passage from Philippians 4:13 reads, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

"I've always had strong faith," said Jones, whose older sister died of brain cancer when he was a teenager. "That's what I'm all about."

That strength also manifests itself on the football field.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder was a state champion wrestler.

He plays with a lot of energy and leverage and he's eager to learn.

"Arthur is surprisingly up to speed with what we're doing," Harbaugh said. "He really works really hard. This guy's ahead of schedule from the mental standpoint and really an explosive player.

"He's got a nice combination of lower body strength and explosiveness and long arms. He's got good feet, he's athletic, he runs to the ball. Tremendous demeanor, just a great guy, so he's going to make a push in training camp."

Jones was a team captain at Syracuse, registering 38 ½ career tackles for losses for the most in school history for an interior defensive lineman and third on the school's all-time list.

He finished with 145 career tackles, 6 ½ sacks and four fumble recoveries.

And he left an indelible mark with his positive attitude and intensity on the field.

Just ask his younger brother, Chandler.

"Everyone says when he walks into a right up, he brightens up the whole room and they call him a big teddy bear," Chandler Jones told Syracuse reporters last fall. "When he buckles up those chin straps, I feel he is a different person. He doesn't talk much, but you can see the anger that comes out. It's two different personalities on and off the field.

"You see him on campus and he's always smiling and giving people high-fives and hugs and dancing around. When he gets on that field, I'm telling you he's a whole different breed."

Jones is the oldest of three boys who grew up roughhousing and wrestling in their parents' living room.

All of them were high school wrestlers, and Arthur Jones won two New York state championships as a heavyweight.

That wrestling background has helped Jones considerably in the trenches.

"Oh yeah, definitely, with leverage, you learn how to use your body in certain ways," Jones said. "It's definitely an advantage I have."

Jones also works out with his brother, Jonathan, a professional mixed martial arts fighter who's one of the rising stars of the UFC. Jones has only lost once and is nicknamed "Bones."

"The conditioning aspect is unbelievable, the boxing and everything," Jones said. "I'm definitely going to come to camp in top shape. I try to keep up. It's pretty intense."

Jones figures into the Ravens' defensive line equation as a rotation player who's battling for a roster spot.

His versatility is a major plus because he could also play defensive end as well as inside.

So far, it's been a smooth transition, certainly easier than what he endured this past year.

"It's been great," Jones said. "The playbook is pretty thick, but I'm learning on the run. It's been fun.

"I'm just trying to learn right now. I'm not worried about a roster spot right now. It's about learning the little things. Everything is coming along well."

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