by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn)
Leading up to the season Inside Northwestern will give you a preview of each of Northwestern’s 2012 recruits. Click here for previous entries.
Hometown: Plano (IL)
Star Rating: Three-star, No. 112 S
Ht/Wt: 6-2, 200 pounds
Other offers: none
What’s to like:
An injury-plagued junior season convinced several top programs Jones wasn’t a worthwhile investment, with several coaches losing interest because of concerns over his speed rounding back into form after a major injury. Northwestern never lost interest, and coach Fitzgerald visited Jones at Plano high school last May when Jones was still on crutches, rehabbing his broken leg. His recovery complete, Jones eliminated concerns over his speed by taking the state title in the 110 meter hurdles.
The concerns most schools had about Jones proved completely unfounded, and now NU benefits from keeping in close contact with the 6-2, 200-pound safety when others wouldn’t. From a sheer athleticism standpoint, Jones ranks near the top of his class, quick enough to make plays sideline-to-sideline, strong in run support, always finding ways to impact the game. He’s driven by a tireless work ethic and fiery competitiveness that shows up on tape, and he grew into a leader during his senior season.
As Brian Peters and Ibraheim Campbell have proved the last few seasons, playing safety in defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz’s scheme is a daunting endeavor, fraught with responsibility and different challenges. Jones appears to offer the complete package. He flew under the radar during his recruitment when questions surfaced about his athletic traits, questions Jones answered in flying colors on the running track and again during his senior season at Plano. Had Jones stayed healthy during his junior year, NU may have lost his commitment to a more established Big Ten program. Fitzgerald and staff will profit from his rocky recruitment path, and the way they sealed his commitment by staying in the race despite signs pointing otherwise.
Prospects for next season:
One safety spot belongs to Ibraheim Campbell. The other is far less stabilized, with several players, including junior Davion Fleming, sophomore Jimmy Hall, and seniors Hunter Bates and Jarod Carpenter competing for starters duties, though Fleming appears to be the leader in the clubhouse heading into preseason camp. It’s unlikely Jones will crack the starters rotation, but it would be unwise to rule him out for a key reserve role given the uncertainty at his position. None of the aforementioned candidates have distinguished themselves in any sort of conclusive way, and it’s hard to draw too many distinctions between any of them at this point.
They all have strengths and weaknesses—Hall is a great athlete, but reckless in coverage; Bates has a high football IQ, but is still feeling the lingering effects of an injury; Fleming is quick, but lacks ideal size; Carpenter’s weaknesses are more difficult to single out, but his game is more average than inspiring. It’s hard to make a convincing case that all of them is definitively better than Jones and more worthy of a starting spot. There’s little chance Jones climbs the depth chart and seizes the starting spot for week 1, and he probably won’t start any games this season, but he can still provide plenty of value as a backup safety.
Without competing against his teammates in preseason camp, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions. Perhaps Jones is better suited redshirting next season, preserving his four years of eligibility as he works in the weight room and learns the defense. Normally true freshmen aren’t ready to contribute in their foremost years of college existence. Jones may not need that developmental year. In fact, the overall weakness in the secondary could demand Jones’ services early and often, even prompt his introduction late in the season if Big Ten quarterbacks, as expected, get to picking apart NU’s pass defense.
With an obvious lack of talent and depth at safety, there’s little reason for Fitzgerald not to at least test the waters with Jones. If he can excel as early as this season, both parties benefit from the exchange: Fitzgerald is better off with one of the more intriguing skills-to-size players in his 2012 class roaming the defensive backfield alongside Campbell, and Jones skips the needless redshirt option altogether. If he needs time to mature, to find his bearings in the power conference college football world, he can enter the fray next year a more refined product, with a year of physical and mental maturation helping him along the way.
What he’s saying:
“It didn’t feel good at all, it ate me up ever single week,” Jones said in August after recovering from a broken leg. “I was coming to the games on Friday and would be excited for them to win a game. When they lost, it broke me apart.”
What they’re saying:
““He’s a fast kid, he’s physical, and he’s still learning the game,” said Jim Green, the head coach at Plano High School. “He didn’t start playing till he was in 8th grade. He’s not set in his way, he’s willing to learn, and he’s a really coachable kid.”
Check out PurpleWildcats.com and Fox Sports Next/Scout.com for the latest in Northwestern recruiting. For more on Jones, check out his profile on scout.com.