May 25, 2012, 9:30 AM EDT
Once viewed as a luxury defensive item or a potential offensive lineman, the transfer of Aaron Lynch has moved blue-chip defensive lineman Jarron Jones up the depth chart by default. The Rochester native, who had given a verbal commitment to Penn State early (pre-Sandusky) before committing to the Irish over offers from schools like Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, and Ohio State, is the type of mold-breaking defensive linemen that only saw South Bend in a visitor’s uniform until recent years.
A good enough athlete to be one of the better basketball players in upstate New York, Jones will bring his 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame to the Irish defensive line, where he’ll at the very least give Stephon Tuitt a run for most imposing-looking guy getting off the bus.
Let’s circle the bases and take a closer look at Jones.
The Skinny: It’s worth covering Jones’ recruiting cohorts once more just for emphasis. His offer sheet might be the best looking of any member of the class of 2012, and any other year he’d be the bright shining defensive line recruit to surpass all others, but two guys named Lynch and Tuitt got Irish fans spoiled. With Lynch gone, it’ll be interesting to see if Jones is ready to push for a spot in the rotation at defensive end, or if he’s more likely to play on the interior as a defensive tackle.
How Ready is he? Probably the million-dollar question. Jones wasn’t all that impressive to recruitniks at the Army All-American bowl, sliding down the Rivals board and perhaps affirming the thoughts of analysts who thought his best position was along the offensive line. I’ll trust this coaching staff’s projection abilities more than the online recruiting services, but it does say that Jones wasn’t the physically dominating type that Lynch and Tuitt were.
You can’t teach Jones’ best asset — impressive size and great feet. The work he put in after his basketball season in the weight room — not to mention Paul Longo’s three months with him this summer — will determine whether or not he’s in the rotation or a prime candidate for a redshirt season.
Best Case Scenario: Jones walks in and adds another valuable swing player to the defensive line rotation. Nobody saw Chase Hounshell getting snaps along the defensive line last year and Jones already walks in with a better frame than Chase. With his length and athleticism, Jones could turn into a Stephon Tuitt-like freshman performer, but doing more without getting a one-game suspension and tackling a bout with mono.
Worst Case Scenario: Jones enjoys a season watching… the offensive line. After working with the defense early, Jones’ move to the offensive side of the ball shouldn’t be seen as a true “worst case scenario” but it does take away even more from a depth chart along the defensive line that started as a strength, but now could be surprisingly thin in 2014.
What Should Make People Happy: Just about anything. If Jones contributes next season, it’s going to be because he’s really good. Logically, Kelly is going to want to protect eligibility for 2014, when Stephon Tuitt might be on his way to greener pastures. A redshirt year didn’t mean the staff didn’t like Jarrett Grace or Ben Councell. It won’t mean they don’t like Jones either.
How Badly Does the Irish Need Him? On a scale of 1-10, short-term 3, long-term 8. He’s a great building block for Bob Diaco’s defensive line and guys that big certainly don’t grow on trees.
One Tidbit for the Road: A two-time first-team, All-State player, Jones wasn’t the state’s player of the year. His 5-foot-7 teammate was. Rochester Aquinas running back Billy Lombardi won that honor. He’ll play lacrosse at Penn State.