(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
This Saturday at 3 p.m. on ESPN2, Razorback fans will finally get to see something they’ve wished about for years; Matt Jones playing football at a position that isn’t quarterback.
Jones will be starting at wide receiver in the 56th annual Senior Bowl for the South squad coached by Tampa Bay’s Jon Gruden. Jones has already impressed the Buc’s coaching staff with his athleticism and desire to simply play the game of football.
Jones has seen practice time with the wide receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, and punt team. Gruden remarked that he’s never seen a player on any level be able to compete at so many different positions.
NFL execs are already drooling over the 6-6 242-pound former Hog, and one in particular called him “mesmerizing”. Although he is playing receiver in the Senior Bowl, at the NFL combines next month Jones will be working out with other signal callers, which may shock some Arkansans.
For almost two years, all I heard was how Jones wasn’t a true quarterback and should be playing wide receiver. The consensus was that the Hogs would never be able to win the big games with Matt behind the center.
They said this despite the fact that he threw for 5,5857 yards and 53 touchdowns in his career. These same people ignored the fact that he had a strong arm, and that he was a winner and a leader.
To a man, the rest of the Razorbacks were more confident with the ball in Jones’ hands. It’s more than obvious now that he has the ability to catch the ball, but receivers only get about seven chances per game to make something happen.
Quarterbacks get the ball every offensive play. I don’t know about you, but I think its smart football to put the pigskin in the hands of your biggest threat as much as you can.
Maybe his decision process wasn’t as efficient as it could have been but look at the limited resources he had to work with. Houston Nutt is a great coach, but the lack of an offensive coordinator definitely hurt Jones’ progress.
Imagine if he would have gotten the specialized attention that quarterbacks in other colleges receive.
If he had been groomed in pro sets like the USC quarterbacks, or played in “fun and gun” offenses where a pass is called 75-percent of the time, he probably would have been heralded as the white Michael Vick.
The adjectives most used when describing Jones is “laconic” or “sleepy-eyed”. I think the word that would be better suited for him would be cool.
Not cool like Fonzie or Johnny Depp, but cool like the mythic quarterbacks from the past: Johnny Unitas, Ken Stabler, Joe Namath.
Those quarterbacks stayed cool under pressure, and usually led their teams to the win column more often than not.
Jones’ hair and demeanor aren’t the only things that make him seem like he jumped out of a ‘70s NFL film reel; he’s a football player.
He can’t be pigeonholed into just one position. The game started out that way years ago, and I think with the evolution of today’s athlete, it will come full circle in a few years.
Being adept at more than one skill leads to a longer shelf life in the NFL. One such player years ago that played multiple positions was George Blanda, and he played until he was in his 40’s (even though the last few were just as a kicker).
Jones has been instrumental in the program that Nutt is building at Arkansas. Everyone who watches this Saturday’s Senior Bowl will hear about Jones and the Hogs, which can’t help but bode well for future recruiting.
The Razorbacks were lucky to have Jones suit up for four years, and as an Auburn fan, I’ll be the first to tell you that we would have been fortunate to have him too.
So, tune in and root for Mr. Jones to play well Saturday and to impress the scouts and the combines. And when he gets drafted, be sure and brag to your friends who aren’t Hog fans just how awesome he was when he was a Hog.
Just remember to include what you really thought of him while he was here.