Thursday, April 8, 2010
Spartans' Jones has unfinished business
By Adam Rittenberg
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Greg Jones has accomplished just about everything he can at the college level.
The Michigan State linebacker earned freshman All-America honors in 2007 after becoming the first true freshman to lead the Spartans in tackles since Dan Bass in 1976. Jones has earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons, and was a consensus first-team All-American last fall. Named Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year last summer, Jones backed up the hype and shared the league's postseason player of the year award with Penn State's Jared Odrick. He has led Michigan State in tackles in each of his three seasons and served as a co-captain in 2009.
His numbers are insane: 359 tackles (9.2 per game), 36.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, 33 games started.
So why is Jones still a Spartan?
Greg Jones still feels like he has things to accomplish at Michigan State.
"I definitely feel like there was unfinished business," he said. "I really felt disappointed about having a 6-7 season, and I really wanted to get better."
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said that by returning for his senior season, Jones sent a signal to the entire team that everyone can always improve, even the squad's top player.
"He's been a captain here, he's led the team in tackles, he's been first-team all-conference, he's been the media's MVP defensively," Dantonio said. "You [come back to] try to win a major type of award, and achieve team goals, and it's about his role as a leader."
Since announcing in January he would return to Michigan State, Jones has made no secret about his desire to improve as a pass defender. He has four career pass breakups but is still looking for his first interception.
Michigan State struggled mightily against the pass in 2009, ranking last in the Big Ten and 112th nationally (267.6 ypg). Jones wants to be a bigger help to the secondary, and he has spent much of spring practice working with the defensive backs.
"That's a very hard job," Jones said. "At linebacker, if I make a mistake, you don't see it, but if they make a mistake, it's a touchdown. I have a lot of respect for those guys, so I always try to be encouraging. That's where I want to be a factor."
Jones is catching more passes this spring from the quarterbacks, watching more film on passing and trying to get a better grasp of what's happening in all three phases on defense, not just the front seven.
"I've been breaking things down with coaches to try to see the bigger picture, where I fit in and where my teammates fit in and how I can help," Jones said. "When the young guys come and ask me questions, I want to be able to answer them. I don't want to have a breakdown and have them freak out and run to the sideline."
Jones' biggest challenge might be convincing defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi that he should sit back in coverage more often. Few linebackers boast the tackles for loss and sacks totals Jones has the past two seasons.
His nine sacks in 2009 ranked fourth nationally among linebackers.
"We're going to blitz that guy," Narduzzi said. "He's our best pass-rush guy. One of the best things that guy does is go get the quarterback. He's got a knack, he's got power. When I know things are down, I'm going to bring that guy."
Jones looks noticeably bigger in his upper body this spring, having added 10 to 15 pounds during the winter and now checks in between 235 and 237 pounds. The size increase should help his NFL prospects next year, but Jones is focused on the task directly ahead of him.
"I want to be able to make plays and be a factor in every phase on defense," Jones said. "I just want to leave here a winner."