|Signs point to Jones being a top-10 pick in next year's NFL Draft. (US Presswire)|
ATHENS, Ga. -- Nearly every night is a lazy one for Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who likes to unfurl his 241-pound frame onto his couch at home and, if it's on television, watch Tom and Jerry. After a long practice, his favorite childhood cartoon helps him relax. But even then, he can't escape football. "I'm like Jerry because I'm always chasing the cheese," Jones said. "The cheese is the quarterback."
Turns out he's helping lead No. 5 Georgia on a Great Cheese Chase to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
If the undefeated Bulldogs make it that far, Jones will likely be in the thick of the national title push. Jones' combination of quickness, strength and instincts has bolstered his case as arguably college football's most impactful defender, alongside Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
That's saying something as sophisticated college offenses continue to make defenses look as uncomfortable as Lane Kiffin filing an injury report.
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Jones' tackles for a loss on nearly every fourth takedown (eight out of 33) and a monster game against Missouri in Week 2 (two sacks, interception) have sprung from more than pure athleticism.
In Georgia's "Odd Buc" package, Jones, a redshirt junior and USC transfer, roams from different linebacker positions, depending on the call or the offensive look. It's the same package defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, a former Cowboys assistant, helped design for DeMarcus Ware to create mismatches and limit constant double teams. But it requires a sound understanding of the scheme to pull it off.
Jones can also drop back adeptly in coverage when necessary, giving Grantham the flexibility he covets in his NFL-tailored 3-4 scheme. Which has Grantham savoring the moment this year. He's no dummy. More than half of the NFL runs a 3-4, and pass rushers in a 3-4 are coveted. Teams see the impact of Ware and Clay Matthews and Von Miller.
Jones, a potential top-10 pick, isn't far behind, said Grantham. All this could make Jones hard to keep around in 2013, though Grantham won't discuss this with Jones until after the season.
"After that top tier, he's already there," Grantham said. "Outside of Ware, this guy's the most complete 'backer I've coached. Pass rush, cover skills, setting the edge on a tight end. He can do it all."
Jones has created buzz in NFL circles, but still might have more to prove. "In the mold of Von Miller but not as explosive," said one NFL personnel executive.
"He's going to be a top-round talent, no question," said an NFL general manager.
Any holes in Jones' game, he looks eager to plug them. Last year was his first as a true outside linebacker, and he wasted little time with 13.5 sacks, but he's just recently started to use his hands properly as a rusher, Grantham said.
We all know the company line from players -- focused on my team, not the NFL -- but Jones seems to embody that phrase.
He didn't even apply to the NFL draft advisory board last year like a dozen of his teammates. He wasn't ready personally or professionally, he said.
"I'm a leader for my team and a lot of guys look up to me," Jones said. "I'm just enjoying the moment."
Jones won't be sneaking up on offensive lines any time soon, as evidenced by his zero-sack performance in last week's 51-44 shootout against Tennessee. Jones said the Vols smartly waited for him to line up -- left, right or middle -- before setting their chip-blocking personnel. That's fine by Jones, as long as opponents know that third downs will belong to him eventually.
"That's when you turn that corner, put all your weight on the quarterback and let him know you're going to be there all night," he said. "It's a challenge between myself and how fast I can get there."
Coaches love Jones' ambition, as long as his lofty goals are harnessed at times. After all, Jones said he wants to be a "sack master and a ball hawk." He's eyeing his first pick-six. But it's kind of like the big man who insists on playing the point in a pick-up hoops game –- that's great you can handle the ball, now go back to the post (or, in this case, rush the passer). Make no mistake, though, Jones is capable of doing both. After dropping into the middle of the field for an interception of Mizzou quarterback James Franklin in the fourth quarter of the 41-20 win on Sept. 8, Jones burst through the left edge for a sack-fumble three plays later.
Grantham values Jones by the way he plays more than the numbers. Jones changes game plans by his presence and ferocity.
"His attitude and approach to the play once the ball's snapped is what separates him from a lot of people," Grantham said.
Jones' presence is felt after the game, too, hugging it out with nearly every Tennessee player after Saturday's win under the Sanford Stadium lights. After each hug, he whips his head back to keep his long dreads out of his face.
After meeting near midfield, Jones taps Vols quarterback Tyler Bray on the chest and tells him to "keep working." Jones is friendly but doesn't smile much through all this, which has led to a recurring theme on campus: Other students tell him he looks mean.
He replies every time, "I'm very respectful."
He plans to get their respect, eventually.
"I just want to be known as a great Bulldog, very respectful, willing to help people, a positive person," Jones said. "As a football player, I just want to be known as a guy that sacrificed everything."