Opponent Feature: Jones makes case as Spartan hero

Robbie Levin

If Greg Jones was a superhero, he would be a Transformer. Whether it has been switching from trumpet to flute or from defensive end to linebacker, Jones has a reputation of making smooth transitions.

No one knows this better than Spartans coach Mark Dantonio, who has had his eyes on Jones since he coached at the University of Cincinnati in Jones’ hometown. According to Dantonio, the junior middle linebacker’s consistent work ethic has eased these transitions.”What you see on the game field is what you see in practice,” said Dantonio at Big Ten Media Day in July. “The great ones that I’ve been around, that’s what happens.”

But Dantonio nearly missed out on the opportunity to see this “great one.” Jones originally committed to Minnesota, but he re-opened his recruitment after Gophers coach Glen Mason was fired in December 2006. The three-star recruit quickly committed to Michigan State, where Dantonio was named the Spartans’ new coach.

Jones, who made the switch from defensive end to linebacker during his junior year of high school, quickly made an impact for the Spartans. As a true freshman, Jones led the team with 78 tackles and received first-team Freshman All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News, Rivals.com and Scout.com.

Jones has used his pass-rushing mentality to his advantage as a linebacker.

“When I played defensive end, I had to battle in the trenches,” he said. “I’ve developed a mentality to be the first one to strike.”

Last year Jones was on the move again. After starting the first eight games of the year as the strongside linebacker, Dantonio moved Jones into the middle. Jones took to his new position, recording 127 tackles in 2008. After the season, Jones was rewarded for his performance with a First-team All-Big Ten selection. Then in July, Jones was named the Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of the year.

Still, Jones knows his hard work would go to waste without the sacrifices of his teammates.”I really look at my defense, and I say thank you to them,” Jones said. “My D-line has kept me safe; they keep guys off of me. And when it comes to the pass game, we really work very hard to develop chemistry so we know where we have to be on the field.”

While Jones has always specialized in stopping the run, he has struggled defending the pass. This was evident last year in the Spartans’ Capital One Bowl loss to Georgia. With 3:43 left in the game and the Bulldogs driving, running back Knowshon Moreno blew past Jones and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the endzone.

As a result, Jones spent time this summer working on his pass coverage.

“I wanted to improve on recognizing things faster,” Jones said. “On that pass against Moreno, I was caught off guard and I had to run him down and I put myself in a bad position.”

Asked if he would be better able to defend against similar passing plays this year, Jones had a resounding answer.

“Without a doubt. There’s no way I would let that happen.”

Finally equipped with all the tools of a linebacker, Jones is on pace to shatter his previous tackling numbers. Halfway through the season, he has amassed 71 tackles for an average of 11.83 tackles per game. This mark puts him first in the Big Ten and third in the country. If Jones continues at this pace, he will be considered among Spartan linebacking greats Dan Bass, Percy Snow and Ike Reese, furthering himself as one of the most prolific tacklers in school history and cementing his superhero status.

“He’s a really, really active linebacker,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He’s got instincts, he flies around and he’s active in the kicking game. He’s a really impressive player.”

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