2011 Wuerffel Trophy Winner Called Rookie Season ‘Frustrating’ but a ‘Learning Experience’
In a decorated collegiate career at Alabama, Jones was an integral part of three national title teams and won nearly every major award a lineman can take home, including the Outland and Rimington trophies. Along with that, he also carried an inherent amount of expectations.
So when Jones’ rookie season amounted to little more than a redshirt year as he recovered from foot surgery, the adjustment was a big one.
“It was frustrating but it was also a learning experience,” Jones said. “Last year was great from the standpoint of I grew a lot, not only as a player but also as a person. It’s tough when you kind of go from the top of the totem pole in college and then you go into the bottom in the NFL and you have to carry pads and things like that.”
As it turned out, carrying pads was about the extent of Jones’ on-field activities in 2013. Before arriving in St. Louis, he suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot in the SEC championship game during his senior year and played through the injury in the BCS title game. He had surgery soon after the season but needed additional cleanup work before he could even get going with the Rams.
Jones went five months without being able to run, which severely limited his ability to get in shape and go through a normal workout routine. Jones lost muscle, gained the wrong kinds of weight and was essentially cut off from doing any sort of workouts involving his lower body.
The Rams drafted Jones knowing full well that his rehab would take some time and were well-prepared to be patient with him in his rookie season. He was inactive the first 13 games of the season and only made sporadic appearances on special teams in the final three games after injuries to other linemen left Jones as one of few options remaining on the roster.
While Jones was an active participant in meeting rooms, he simply hadn’t had enough opportunities to translate those lessons to the field. Believing that Jones didn’t have enough repetitions and that he wasn’t prepared to handle the physical nature of the league, the Rams resisted the urge to insert Jones into the lineup before he was ready.
It was an assessment Jones understood.
“I didn’t have any problem memorizing what to do but there’s just a certain amount of times you have to see something in person to be able to do it in football,” Jones said. “It’s a totally different view watching it on film and seeing it and making the calls than it is from down on the ground where it’s not as easy to see what’s going on and it’s all happening way faster.
“It’s got to become instinct. When you see something happen, you don’t have to think about the call, it just immediately comes to you and you call it out. That’s something that takes reps and takes time and that’s something I’m getting at right now.”
Entering his first off season, the Rams gave Jones a clear mission to reshape his body and add strength to hold up in the rugged NFC West division. Finally back healthy and able to run, Jones spent his time bouncing back and forth between St. Louis and his hometown of Memphis. Able to run again, he set about a rigorous workout plan with the intent of removing whatever bad weight remained from last season and replacing it with muscle.
The difference is noticeable. Jones doesn’t have exact figures on weight lost and muscle gained but says his weight is actually still around the 308 pounds he was listed at last year.
“I actually weigh about the same,” Jones said. “I can’t remember but my body fat percentage is much lower. (This year), I was able to run, get working out full speed again and just go. I wish I had some exact figures for you but I don’t. I just know I feel a lot better.”
Jones is also better positioned to compete and contribute to the Rams offensive line as he enters his second season. He has spent the early days of organized team activities working at center with some guard mixed in. With Greg Robinson and Rodger Saffold almost certain to hold the starting jobs at guard and Scott Wells returning at center, Jones’ next step will be to earn the job as the team’s primary interior swingman with the eventual goal of becoming the long-term starter at center.
For now, Jones is clearly excited just to be back healthy and able to participate in a full complement of off season activities. The rest will work itself out in due time.
“I’m just trying to not worry about any of that stuff and wherever they put me, I just try to practice hard and work hard and get better,” Jones said. “I am so happy. This is great. I’m having a blast out here.”
Nick Wagoner is ESPN’s writer for the St. Louis Rams