ATHENS, Ga. -- This was probably the best sign that Jarvis Jones, the pride of Columbus, didn’t quite fit in at Southern California. The now-Georgia linebacker was asked the other day what celebrities he remembered seeing during his one year at USC.
“The dude, who sang -- what’d he sing -- ‘Lean on me,’ on ESPN,” he said. Who else? “The coach on ‘The Waterboy.’ ”
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Then Jones thought some more.
“The dude that does the night show. He has a little night show that comes on.”
“I think that (was) Jay Leno.”
Or perhaps Jimmy Kimmel. In any case, it seems Jones is where he belongs in Athens. Or at least where the Bulldogs feel he belongs.
Jones could still be at USC today if not for the sanctions that hit the program two years ago, or the neck injury he incurred. The team doctors weren’t going to clear Jones to play during the 2010 season. On top of the sanctions, Jones figured it was best to return home.
He had to sit out last season, per NCAA transfer rules. But Georgia doctors cleared him, so he was able to play on the scout team, where he made an impression.
Defensive end Derrick Lott and Jones were on the scout team together, and they became good friends. They called themselves “the hit squad.”
”Let’s show these guys what we got,” Lott said, recounting their mantra. “Jarvis, he flies around to the ball now, he makes big plays, he’s quick. He did the same thing on scout team, so I knew right (away), Jarvis, he’s going to be real good.”
That’s what the Bulldogs are hoping. Jones has shone in spring practice, according to teammates and coaches. He has a chance to show the general public what he can do Saturday during the G-Day game.
The hope in some quarters is that Jones can become the defensive playmaker the team needs now with Justin Houston gone to the NFL. But Jones is hesitant to hang that expectation on himself.
“Justin was a great player. He did some great things for this program,” Jones said. “I could be that guy. Me, personally, I could be that guy, but I don’t see myself being that guy. Not personally -- the fans probably do. But I just want to go out there and play hard every down, and give my teammates, give my coaches and give this university everything I’ve got.”
Jones did say that he sees himself making plays and thinks he can do that all over the field. He will inevitably be compared to Houston, even though they didn’t play the same position: Houston was the “Will” outside linebacker, while Jones will line up as the “Sam.”
But defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said “linebackers make plays in 3-4s (schemes).” And he thinks Jones could do that too.
“When you’re a playmaker, you’re going to have chances to make plays, and we’re going to put him in a position to make plays,” Grantham said. “He’s got a burst and some slither to him.”
Grantham wasn’t sure whether to play Jones inside or outside before spring practice. He opted for outside, with Alec Ogletree moving from safety to inside linebacker.
Grantham said the spring performances by Jones and Ogletree convinced him that it was “100 percent the right thing.”
But the impact may not happen right away. Lott thinks it may take Jones a game or two to get fully comfortable.
“Justin Houston was used to it, he knew what to expect. So he (would) come out of a game, talk to all the boys around us, he’ll get out there and get hyped,” Lott said. “I think Jarvis needs that first-game experience, he needs that first game under his belt to get out there and be a real good leader like Houston was.”
Jones, again showing a lack of cockiness, agreed. Practice is one thing, he said, but a game is another. He’s been playing against his teammates for a year now.
“I’m having fun,” he said. “I’m playing hard. I’m learning as much as I can.”