After struggling to find his way in the program as a defensive end, Jarron Jones saw a lightbulb come on after filling in for Louis Nix at nose guard. With no other options available, the Irish defensive staff called on Jones to fill Nix’s sizeable void, and Jones responded—turning the trajectory of his career around in the process.
While his 2014 season was ended early because of injuries, Jones continued to make progress as a defensive tackle, showing dominant moments in Brian VanGorder’s system while still learning to refine his technique. And with NFL hopes for the future, Jones has a chance to parlay one great senior season into a career on Sundays, all while earning his degree in the process.
Early in his career, a fifth-year didn’t seem likely, but because Jones wasn’t fulfilling his obligations to the team. If all goes according to plan in 2015, a fifth-year won’t be necessary.
Let’s take a look at Jarron Jones.
6’5.5″, 315 lbs.
Senior, No. 94, DL
Jones had elite offers out of high school, and was viewed as a Top 200 player by Rivals and a US Army All-American. Earlier in the recruiting cycle, Jones was close to a five-star ranking, though his struggles in San Antonio dropped his ceiling.
But offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Florida, Michigan and Florida State all point to a very high ceiling.
Freshman Season (2012): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2013): Appeared in 12 games, making one start against Stanford. Had 20 total tackles on the season, including a sack against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. Played his best game against BYU, where he made seven tackles and blocked a fourth quarter field goal, one of two kicks Jones blocked in 2013.
Junior Season (2014): Played and started in Notre Dame’s first 11 games before a foot injury ended his season. His 40 tackles tied Sheldon Day for most tackles from a defensive lineman. He finished tied for second on the team with 7.5 TFLs.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
I’m expecting a big season from Jones, who will still be learning on the go, but has all the physical traits you’d want in a front-line defensive line starter. If there’s one thing that has me most excited about Jones is the maturity that seems to have found him. A conversation I had with him after the BYU game had Jones taking responsibility for the lack of impact he’d made so far in his college career.
“Just me being young and not focused,” Jones said last November. “It was all over the place. It was in the classroom, it was also just me in general, I kinda saw myself like, ‘Where’s my life going?’ That’s when I kind of realized I needed to tighten the screw a lot.”
Maturity helps. So does an advantageous scheme. Jones is a better fit playing in the A-gap as opposed to having to play the traditional nose guard position that Nix did. And he’ll have a big responsibility in the Irish defense, wreaking havoc up front and freeing up Joe Schmidt, Nyles Morgan or Jarrett Grace to make tackles from the Mike linebacker spot.
When Kelly and the Irish coaching staff landed Jones as a recruit, he looked like the next in line as the Irish successfully reeled in blue-chip defensive linemen after a decade of struggles. It may have taken a little bit longer for the lightbulb to go on, but Jones seems back on the right track.
The sky is the limit. Jones would do wise to note the final seasons of Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt if he’s considering this his last year in South Bend. Neither of those two put together solid seasons on tape and they entered the NFL on the wrong foot, leading to draft day slides and largely invisible rookie campaigns.
When Jones is engaged and at his best, he’s blowing up the line of scrimmage and making things tough on opponents. When he’s not? He’s a big body that gets out of position and struggles with fundamentals.
Jones’ recovery from foot surgery is one of the biggest questions of the offseason. Coming back in shape and healthy is critical if the Irish want to be as good as they think they can be, and Jones as dominant as he expects.
The NFL will always be there. And a fifth-year would allow Jones to play a season with his brother. But a great 2015 season needs to come first. And then the hard decisions—neither a bad one—can follow.
Keith Gilmore has a very moldable piece of clay in Jones, and he’s likely spent a lot of this summer getting to know one of his star pupils. I think there’s more Notre Dame can get out of Jones as a pass rusher, and hopefully Gilmore does a good job of unlocking that.
Jones has an interesting first seven weeks, including two dates against option, cut-blocking offenses. At nearly 6-foot-6, if he’s capable of keeping his lower body healthy, he’s also primed to put up very big numbers, with a double-digit TFL season on the horizon.
That’s the baseline of my expectations, and I think Jones will also make an impact with another blocked kick (or two) in 2015, adding to the four career blocks he already has. But the duo of Jones and Sheldon Day has the potential to be one of the most dominant tackle pairings in college football, and could bring the Irish back to the glory days of the Holtz era when you think about wreaking havoc on the inside.
I’m all in on Jones, but he’s got to prove that he’s healthy to unlock the potential just about everybody sees.
THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE