Previously: CB Greg Brown, CB/S Tamani Carter, CB Blake Countess, CB Delonte Hollowell, CB Raymon Taylor, LB Antonio Poole, LB Desmond Morgan, and LB Frank Clark.
Occasionally, Spartan taunting will cause the message board to recycle a discussion about whether non-alum Michigan fans are real Michigan fans and how the core, I-know-what-Great-Books-is folk should react to them. Kellen Jones's dad Sean is the answer to this question.
The elder Jones grew up wanting to play for Michigan but didn't end up a D-I prospect, but a decade or two after his playing career at Morehead State ended, his influence saw a kid from Houston want nothing more than to don a winged helmet:
Q: How did you end up at Michigan?
A: It was a dream offer from the get-go. My dad’s dream was to go there, and he passed it on to me. It’s Michigan — Big House football. It’s a great academic school with history and tradition, the winningest program in college football, so it’s an all-purpose fit.
Q: So you’re going to be living your dad’s dream. How thrilled is he?
(Dad Sean Jones played at Morehouse College, Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater.)
A: He’s so excited. I think he might be more excited than I am. He sings Hail to the Victors. He’s looking up the videos and all types of stuff.
The answer: come one and all, especially if you are a large and mean.
The Jones family's Michigan fandom saw Kellen select Michigan over a wide array of mid-level BCS offers of which Arkansas, Texas A&M, Stanford, and Missouri were the most impressive. Jones made a little bit of noise about opening his recruitment back up when Rodriguez was fired but a couple of phone calls from Hoke and Mattison and he was solid again.
As a result, Michigan has a slashing blitzer on the three/four star borderline who is badly needed. Like Morgan, scouting reports focus on his intelligence. Unlike Morgan, they also praise explosive athleticism. (Morgan's edge is two inches and twenty pounds.)
Touch The Banner:
The best parts of Jones' game are his intelligence and instincts. He has a knack for finding the ball even if he has to wade through the trash. Furthermore, as a high school middle linebacker, he has experience playing the position, which ought to enhance the speed with which he picks up the college game. Once he finds the ball, he's a solid tackler who could be a devastating hitter once he puts on the necessary weight and refines some tackling technique issues.
His highlight film above helps confirm. It features a large number of plays on which Jones has to pick through trash or defeat blocks to get to the ballcarrier. This may be because of its extensive length—a lot of shorter videos leave out scraping plays because they don't often result in HERE COMES THE BOOM—but it may also be because a lot of high school linebackers don't do that kind of thing very often.
That's not to say he doesn't bring the boom:
“He’s just a violent football player. He’s going to leave his mark when he makes contact with you,” Kimball said of Jones …
[Kimball] describes a play not on the highlight film: “…the guy’s momentum stopped going forward instantly. It was amazing that they were both conscious after that hit,” Kimball said. “I don’t know how both of them got up and walked off the field. It was one of those types of collisions that looked like two diesel trucks running into each other.
“Poor running back, he didn’t see it coming, barely.”
“I love to hit, I love to hit,” Jones said laughing. “When the season starts everyone is excited. You hear the fans, the crowd and I love to make contact and knock somebody into the dirt.”
“As a linebacker, I’m very instinctive,” said Jones, who has a 3.4 grade-point average and plans to major in mathematics and engineering. “I’m very good on the blitz. I’m aggressive to the ball and I’m a great pass rusher. I’m very passionate about the game.”
Did you have a tingle thinking about a linebacker who understands what a tangent is? I did. This is a signal you have Asperger's disease even if it doesn't exist anymore.
While most list him as an inside linebacker, ESPN and Jones himself believe he can play inside or out. ESPN's take($):
… excellent athlete … Has the size for the outside linebacker position at the major level of competition. We like this guy's flexibility, balance and agility; does a good job with K&D run recognition skills however his strength is the ability to avoid contact and beat blockers to the point of attack with quickness. Moves through traffic very well with good change of direction ability; is able to keep leverage on the ball and is seldom out of position. Flashes downhill ability vs. the inside run but not the big tough inside linebacker type who consistently stacks at the point. … capable of creating havoc in the backfield against the run and pass. Is productive blitzing up the middle or off the edge; shows good timing with quite a few sacks and hurries. … The intense motor this player brings to the field results in big momentum changing plays.
Scout more than echoes the section on his effectiveness as a blitzer:
Amazing on the blitz, he is as instinctual as you can find. He has a feel for getting through blocking and getting in to attack the quarterback, also good at blocking kicks. His size is okay but it is not above average. Good speed he uses it to his advantage on blitzes and coverage. Does a great job of working through blocks.
All things being equal, Jones might be destined for MLB. Things are not equal, though. Michigan has two more years of Kenny Demens in the middle, a potentially solid backup in Marell Evans, and fellow freshman Desmond Morgan. On the weakside there's just Mike Jones and Antonio Poole. While Poole is about the same level of recruit Jones is he's probably 15-20 pounds lighter. Jones could—probably should—be on the two-deep at WLB the day he steps on campus. His long term future could be in the middle, but until Demens departs he's needed on the outside. His coach echoes($) that evaluation:
"I don't think he is going to be there yet to play inside linebacker as an incoming freshman - that's a pretty tall task for any freshman - but at outside linebacker I think he has the ability to come in and play pretty soon," Kimball said. "On the perimeter I think he can make a pretty good impact with what they are doing out there, and over time, as he develops the college bulk to him, I think he can progress into the middle."
That versatility will make it easy for Jones to be on the field early and often even if Brady Hoke is dead set on filling a four-deep at LB.
Etc.: Hanging out with Ray Lewis. Hanging out with… um… Rich Rodriguez. Watch him sign a piece of paper. Played in that "USA vs the World" game. Player of the Week feature from the local Fox affiliate. Extensive interview with The Victors Voice.
One more fawning coach quote($) for the road:
"I don't see how he could be close to maxed out, not because of his physical abilities, but because of his work ethic," Kimball said. "He's almost a straight A student and the strongest guy on the team, but he puts those types of standards on himself... he's really focused for a young man. He does not do anything half throttle, whether that is in the classroom, the weight room or on the practice field. He has a relentless pursuit of perfection."
Aw, hell, here's another:
“We’ve got some great coaches here, but it’s (Jones’) aggressiveness that’s really made him the player he is,” Kimball said. “We spend actually more time at practice telling him to chalk it back a little bit. … We had to tell him, ‘Hey, man, look, we’re just trying to get a look here, you’re running scout team defense of whatever can you maybe give us a better look, because we’re not going to face a guy like you the whole season.’”
Why Larry Foote? Foote was a slightly undersized linebacker (6-0.5, 240-ish as a senior at Michigan) with good athleticism who could get to the sideline and was at his best when sent on the blitz. He bounced between MLB and WLB; as a senior he annihilated all comers with 23.5 TFLs.
Here's an old scouting report($) from Scout leading up to his NFL draft year:
THE GOOD: Quick, athletic linebacker that flies around the football. Explosive first step moving to action, scrapes well laterally and pursues the ball carrier with speed. Effectively redirects to the ball carrier, displays a quick and fluid change of direction and shows excellent range in pass coverage. Gets depth on his drops, adequate footwork covering backs or tight ends off the line of scrimmage and can play in space. Works hard, plays with reckless abandon and goes sideline to sideline for 60 minutes.
THE BAD: Small, slow shedding blocks or rather easily moved out of his angle of attack. Lacks body control and may not have the flat out speed to be considered at strong safety.
Jones seems to have all of the good bits above and sheds better than Foote—at least against high school competition.
Guru Reliability: Fairly high. Spread in rankings is pretty large, but was healthy at a big school in Houston. Scouting reports are consistent; differences in opinion appear to be due to varying opinion on how well he'll be able to overcome a lack of size.
General Excitement Level: Slightly under high. Size is a limitation, though it shouldn't be a huge one if he doesn't end up in the middle. The experience, athleticism, intelligence, and desire to plant his face into your pancreas at speed all appear to be there.
Projection: Moved to WLB in his first week on campus and probably on the two-deep against Western. No reason to redshirt him with the linebacker flood behind him and Michigan will need him unless Mike Jones is unreasonably good for a meh recruit who missed last year with an injury. Will probably spend the first half of the season spotting Jones—remember that Thomas Gordon will see significant rotation as the nickelback—and then it's 50-50 he takes over the starting job a la Demens.
Long term I think he sticks at WLB since he'll be established there and some combo of Morgan/Bolden/RJS/Ross will turn into a productive middle linebacker. A potential four-year starter.