Bowling Green State University defender Darius Smith, top center, makes a stop last season. Scouts are intrigued by a guy who is 6-foot-1, but seems taller; who is 293 pounds, but seems lighter; who plays defensive tackle, but more like a very mobile, agile end.
BOWLING GREEN -- Practice ended late, about 30 minutes late, last Friday evening and the sun was already ducking below the rim of Doyt Perry Stadium. The last player off the field, he was delayed by a lengthy interview by a long-winded reporter. He was getting a little antsy. He had a date with a pretty girl.
(Insert cute story here: Late last season, coming off the field after a game, he dropped down on one knee before the same young lady and everyone, teammates and coaches alike, stopped in their tracks to watch him pop the question. It turned out he was tying his shoe.)
Anyway, before he could escape to the locker room and showers, a small group of young soccer players in town for a weekend tournament came out of the stands, a couple fathers in tow, and asked if he would pose for a picture. One picture became several pictures. Every kid got a high-five and a chance to hold his helmet.
"You might want to keep that picture," one of the dads was told.
"Why, is he any good?" he asked.
Well, yeah, Chris Jones is pretty good. Really good, actually. All-Mid-American Conference good. Most likely, he is Sunday good.
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson estimates that half of the NFL teams have been to Falcon practices so far this late summer. The other half will be by any day now.
Scouts are intrigued by a guy who is 6-foot-1, but seems taller; who is 293 pounds, but seems lighter; who plays defensive tackle, but more like a very mobile, agile end.
Heading into his senior year at BG, Jones has 27 tackles for loss and 15 1/2 sacks. Like we said, those are rush end numbers, maybe an outside linebacker in a blitz-heavy package.
As a tackle, Jones is about the most disruptive force Clawson has ever seen in the middle of any line.
"For an inside tackle, operating in not so much space, to generate those kinds of numbers, well, that's a rare guy," Clawson said. "He's unblockable at times in practice. If we're working on pass offense and want to throw deep we take him out. We script it on our practice plan -- CJ out. Otherwise, we get nothing accomplished."
Jones and his mates hope to accomplish a lot during a 2012 season that begins next Saturday with a big mountain to climb at Florida, where most expect the Falcons to be Gator bait.
"Coach Clawson says to approach it like the Woody Hayes quote about how an underdog can't be an underdog when the better team wins," Jones said. "Or something like that."
Woody actually said, "It's never an upset if the so-called underdog has all along considered itself the better team."
But close enough.
Jones feels the rebuilding process of the last two seasons -- a painful and disappointing stretch that included more close losses than he can count -- is over.
"The talent, the experience, it's the most we've ever had in my four years," Jones said. "We have not had a single bad practice. We're excited about playing Florida. And I want to win the MAC championship worse than anything."
Only after that is decided will he entertain thoughts of the NFL. It's an opportunity he relishes, but not one that he thinks about for more than "a split second" when he sees the pro scouts on campus.
Jones will talk endlessly about his team, his coaches, and their goals. The only subject, other than the NFL, that he seems hesitant to discuss is himself. Namely, how and why is he so good?
"I don't know," he said. "I mean, I just play the game. I just don't like being blocked. I try to be relentless. In a game, my mind goes to another gear. The motor, I just try to be fast on every play."
He said his fastest time in the 40-yard dash is five-seconds flat.
"I probably should have said 4.6," he said, laughing. "But there's that speed and then there's game speed. That's when the motor revs up."
Game speed and strength are his primary assets. Jones' weight-room numbers are staggering -- squat lift, 665 pounds, school record; clean lift, 380 pounds, school record; bench press, 415 pounds; three-lift total, an almost-unheard-of 1,460 pounds, school record.
"Weight room, practice field … his capacity to work is as good as any player I've ever been around," Clawson said. "And it's every day. There are guys who have the capacity to work but maybe not great talent, there are talented players who don't have that capacity to work, and then there are a select few players like Chris who are a combination of the two. It's what separates him."
Jones said everything he has put into football since the end of last season has "all been hard work. Now, the games start and that's easy. Hard work equals easy play. Hey, I just made that up."
Pretty profound, eh?
Pretty much Chris Jones.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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