Regardless of what you think you thought you knew about his stellar SEC debut with Georgia last season, Jones says his performance was a bit of a mirage.
Sure, he was galloping around making play after play and clobbering quarterbacks, but the speed and strength you thought you saw was more of an optical illusion.
“I’m not fast at all, man,” said Georgia’s rising junior linebacker, who led the SEC in tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (13.5) in his SEC debut season last fall. “That’s what people don’t understand. I’m not big. I’m not strong.”
While probably bigger, stronger and faster than the average individual, Jones said his year of SEC success following his transfer from USC happened because of his brain power. His time in the film room and time analyzing every move and twitch of his opponents helped him be the monster and All-American he was in 2011.
Georgia's Jarvis Jones said his work studying opponents led him to an impressive 2011 season.
It does help being 6-foot-3, and 241 pounds, but it doesn’t help you understand what’s going on. When playing out on the Left Coast, Jones mostly survived on physical ability. But when he moved down south and things around him picked up, Jones had to adjust.
For him, taking hours to dissect film of a left tackle’s movements, finding any sort of trends he might have, benefited him much more than hitting the weight room or sprinting until his legs gave out. Jones knows that football is just as mental as it is physical.
“I had to catch up,” Jones said.
And catch up he did. Even before he was eligible to play in 2011, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham noticed something special about Jones. He was versatile enough to move around all the different linebacker spots, so before settling on the outside, Grantham used him inside during bowl preps for the 2010 Liberty Bowl.
Jones, who was working with the scout team, impressed, but really shined outside. He hounded the quarterback, stuffed the run and dropped back in coverage when needed. Grantham felt he was a perfect fit to play outside and help ease the loss of star Justin Houston.
“He has the complete package as an outside backer,” Grantham said. “He’s a guy that we depend upon to make a lot of plays.”
Fellow linebacker Christian Robinson said he wasn’t surprised at how well Jones performed in 2011 after seeing him dominate some of Georgia’s best offensive linemen.
“When you go up against top college competition -- NFL players now -- you get used to playing at that level,” Robinson said of Jones. “Then, you put him up against guys who can’t keep up and don’t realize how fast he is and how strong he is.
“He’s quick and he’s going to get lower than you and he’s going to get underneath your pads. He really knocks some people around.”
But to make those plays, Jones said he had to sharpen his mental skills and get smarter in the film room.
So he started dissecting plays like a skilled surgeon and decided to break his game down into steps. They came during the 17 or so seconds that it took for an offense to line up and get set to the two-to-three seconds it took for a play to take place.
Here’s a quick look at what went through Jones on any given play:
Look at the formation and the personnel -- he should know what each player can and can’t do and what plays can be run.
Line up and find tendencies of linemen -- he should determine whether linemen (especially the left tackle) are in a pass set or a run set. He should know how long it takes them to get out of their stances and where most of their weight is planted.
Remember the snap count -- this is crucial to providing the most disruptive pressure possible.
Get off the ball and remember technique -- quick moves are essential and making sure he has a move to give a tackle and one to combat his retaliation will make or break his progress.
Quarterback movements -- is it a five-step or seven-step drop? Is it play-action? Or is it a run?
“That’s a whole lot in a little bit of time,” Jones said.
This isn’t revolutionary stuff Jones is doing, but it was very important and made life easier last year.
Now, it’s carried over to spring and has helped slow things down in practice. There is no pausing, only reacting.
Building off of last season will be hard, Jones said, and he expects to receive much more attention from opposing offenses. He noticed in the last two games of the season when LSU and Michigan State game planned his side more than other teams had.
The result? Four total tackles, none for loss.
So improvements have to be made, Jones said. He’ll have to study harder and think faster when he’s on the field. Maybe even lift a few more weights.
The good thing is that Georgia’s defense won’t depend solely on him. He has plenty of help around him, making the thought of double-teaming pretty silly.
“I’m always a team player, so if they’re going to focus on me there are 10 more other people they have to block,” he said. “Stats for me, I really don’t care because at the end of the day if we win and I get zero tackles and no sacks I don’t care.”