Jarron Jones has responded to Brian Kelly’s challenge

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Jarron Jones knows he needs to be better. Better shape. Better effort. Better leadership.

Brian Kelly made that challenge public before camp opened. And after some struggles this spring with all those critical facets, through the first week of training camp, the Irish head coach noticed that Jones has taken his challenge and run with it.

“We’ve seen more out of him,” Kelly said over the weekend. “I would tell Jarron right now if he were sitting here that he’s changed that perception of the numbers of reps because of the way he’s practiced and the way he’s handled the load.”

When Kelly tabbed Jones as a 20-to-30-snap player before camp opened, it raised eyebrows. Because as a talent, Jones is not a part-time player. He’s a guy that has the potential to be a true impact defender. That’s who we saw two seasons ago in Tallahassee, where Jones destroyed the interior of Florida State’s offensive line.

But Jones is not that same football player any more. And the challenge this August has been to put the two injuries he suffered since that game behind him, allowing him to get back to the player who looked like an All-American, not Daniel Cage’s backup.

As Jones began the final training camp of his collegiate career, he admitted that he spent the spring more worried about the multitude of injuries he suffered, not working back into form.

“I let injuries get the best of me. It was two freak accidents,” Jones said from Culver Academy. “Both of them. When you have two freak accidents, it gets to you. It gets in your head.”

But the progress Kelly spoke of on Saturday is validated not just by the eyeball test but by raw data. As Notre Dame’s sports science commitment continues, Jones has been outfitted with GPS monitoring and Catapult technology, the staff seeing in real-time the commitment he has towards pushing through the physical grind of camp and committing to the team.

“He had a little bit of a foot sprain which would have sidetracked him in years past,” With our GPS system and Catapult now, those numbers don’t lie. He’s maintained a heavy workload even with a slight foot sprain.”

Now the challenge is continuing that effort—reclaiming not just his health, but a spot in the starting lineup.

“It’s just trying to prove myself and get my role back,” Jones told Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman. “Right now Daniel is the number one at nose because I didn’t have a good spring, so I am just trying to prove myself to them.”

If Jones puts in the effort, the rest will take care of itself. CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler confirms what most Irish fans already know—that NFL scouts took notice of Jones’ big 2014 season. So if the veteran can stay healthy and work past the lingering impact of two bad injuries, Kelly and the defensive staff will find him all the snaps he can handle.

“I feel like I can be the best defensive tackle in the country,” Jones said.