April 11, 2008

Determined Jones a 'dynamic playmaker'

Practice on the warmest day of the spring had ended for Tennessee's football players, and interviews -- mercifully -- concluded Thursday inside the Volunteers' Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.

Eventually, every Vol had drifted into the team's locker room to unwind. Except Gerald Jones.

Engulfed by media while teammates worked on the JUGS machine under the tutelage of first-year receivers coach Latrell Scott, Jones simply waited his turn. Caught footballs. Tennis balls. Adjusted the retention bucket in one hand and caught tennis balls in the other to improve hand-strength and concentration.

Must've been 300 of them, Scott estimated.

"He works his tail off," Scott said of the talented sophomore from Oklahoma City. "Gerald's one of those kids that will work all day long. If I stand here till 7 o'clock, he'll be here. This entire group is that way."

Last to leave the field, Jones likewise was planning with Scott to be the first player into the complex Friday morning. Scott proposed a 5:30 a.m. meeting; Jones briefly asked for an extra 30 minutes' sleep and then told his coach they would run together at his suggested time.

After battling a hamstring injury that delayed his impressive 2007 debut season, Jones can't get enough work this spring in first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson's offense.

"It was a big concern. I couldn't get over it," Jones said of the injury last fall. "I'd get healthy, then would get back and hurt it again. I do it a little different now. I stretch before meetings and stretch after practice.

"It still bothers me if I don't have my stretch. But other than that, it's been all right."

Following a surprising off-the-field incident for the quiet Jones during the offseason in which he was cited along with teammate Ahmad Paige for simple possession of marijuana, Jones humbly has worked toward atonement.

"I think Gerald took it as a personal challenge. He realized he made a mistake, and he was down about it for a few days," Scott said of the incident, which prompted Jones to write a letter of apology to head coach Phillip Fulmer. "Even a little bit leery about even being in public, but we told him, things happen and the worst thing you can do is get down. I think he kind of took that and hit the ground running. He knows people are going to say things, and people are going to talk, just like they do us as a group, but as long as people are talking about you, that's good.

"As long as we keep the negative, off-the-field things to a minimum, they'll be fine."

While the offense has endured some understandable growing pains with four first-year coaches and a new quarterback, Jones has been quickly identified as a playmaker who can thrive in Clawson's system.

"One thing I do know is that we've got to get the ball into Gerald Jones' hands in order for us to win," Scott said. "He's one of the most dynamic playmakers that we have on this team. …

"What we're going to do is get it to him as many different ways as possible. Gerald's going to line up in the slot, he's going to line up wide, he's going to line up in plenty of different places. You're going to see Gerald Jones in a lot of different places. He'll be in the kick return team, just however we can get the ball in guys like Gerald's hands, we will."

That's encouraging for Jones, whose dynamic skill set even prompted Fulmer to bemoan the 6-foot, 185-pounder's lack of involvement at key points this spring.

"Not just me, I think it's exciting for anybody," Jones said. "The style of play, you can put so many different people in situations to get them the ball. It's crazy. It's not just good for me, but for every playmaker we have on offense."

Saturday's major intrasquad scrimmage, the team's last before the Orange and White game on April 19, remains an important litmus test for the offense. Like his teammates, Jones has begun to feel more at ease in Clawson's dynamic system.

"I'm getting a lot more comfortable with this offense," he said. "I'm making good enough plays to be out on the field more than I was last year."

Though that doesn't yet include the fan-favorite "G-Gun" package, Jones derives confidence from his electrifying performance against LSU last December in the SEC Championship and thinks the package can make a return.

"Hopefully that (G-Gun) can happen if I can learn this offense," Jones said. "I'll get it down to where I know it effectively. …
"I talked to Clawson and he said if I can get this offense down to where I know it effectively, then we would try some of the G-gun hopefully."

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