MOBILE, Ala. — Deion Jones has enjoyed every component, every nuance to the biggest challenge of his young life — succeeding at the NFL level.
Early to bed. Early to rise. Obeying the principles of good nutrition. Running extra gassers after taxing workouts. Preparing for NFL-combine drills that were foreign to him just a few months ago. The mental side of handling multiple positions on defense.
Jones even has a pleasant outlook on life when fielding a number of random media questions over a 20-minute span. Yes, to the untrained eye, it’s almost like Jones is too nice to be perfectly suited for such a violent game.
But make no mistake. The LSU linebacker wouldn’t mind one more stab at suiting up in his team’s home whites — with purple and gold trim — provided the opponent on the schedule reads ALABAMA.
“Because I hate losing, because I just can’t be happy (with last season), I would love to give (Alabama) one more shot. Yeah, I would,” said Jones on Tuesday, just hours after the South squad wrapped its first daily workout for Senior Bowl Week.
It’s hard to miss Jones’ athletic gifts on the practice field. For starters, his jersey number ‘0’ suggests this level-headed kid can be a little eccentric once the ball gets snapped. He also has the speed and commanding physical prowess of a top-notch SEC athlete, routinely keeping up with smaller players and still possessing enough power to subdue bulkier combination.
And don’t forget about that lethal swim move when attacking a fearful tailback or fullback on pass-protection drills.
It’s all part of a Jones package which plays bigger than 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds.
“My (LSU role model Kwon Alexander) keeps telling me: (Playing in the pros) … it’s the same game. Sped up. A little more complicated. But you still have to have that passion to succeed,” says Jones, a New Orleans native.
Jones’ production curve took a major step forward in 2015, registering five sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. As such, he anchored a Tigers defense that was curiously consistent last fall, surrendering 28 points or fewer for all nine victories … but allowing 30-plus points for LSU’s three defeats.
About the losses … during a two-week span in November, covering three Saturdays of SEC action, LSU plunged from a No. 2 national ranking (College Football Playoff committee) to outside the Top 25.
It was a humiliating fall from grace, even if the losses to Alabama (eventual national champion), Arkansas and Ole Miss were respectable. That three-game tailspin, by most accounts, was also enough to prompt a change at the top, with LSU primed to replace Les Miles (112-32 record, one national championship since 2005) at the end of the regular season.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the retirement party. While the Tigers were disposing of Texas A&M in the home finale, Miles had earned a stay of execution from the LSU athletic department — for reasons that remain unclear today.
It’s not weird that Miles, one of the SEC’s best coaches and most storied recruiters, had gotten another chance. The turn of events was eminently more fascinating.
Were LSU officials ultimately swayed by the outpouring of Tiger Stadium affection, minutes after stifling the Aggies? Or did Miles suddenly accrue more value with the school’s leadership branch … once Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher had agreed to stay with his current school?
Jones couldn’t supply an answer to either query. He only worries about the things within his control.
“Like I said, our team is a bunch of sore losers. We hate losing and we really made a point to play hard (for each other) against Texas A&M,” says Jones, pegged as a Day 2 draft pick at outside linebacker. “The thing about Coach (Miles), he didn’t try to make it about him (in the home finale) … we were playing for each other, laying it on the line for each other. And (thankfully), we won.”