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Penn State Football: Jones beginning to embrace move to tight end

  • By Bill Landis, The Sentinel
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Paul Jones was done with playing tight end after an hour.

He didn’t like, he didn’t want to do it, he still wanted to be a quarterback.

Coach Bill O’Brien’s message was simple: if Jones wanted to contribute to this Penn State football team, he’d better think twice about that decision.

“That Monday (after the Ohio game) I tried it,” Jones said after Saturday’s win over Navy. “Tuesday afternoon I told him I didn’t want to and he told me not to go to practice. I thought about it and came to practice and started playing the new position.”

That new position allowed the redshirt sophomore to finally see the field for the first time during Saturday’s win. His first couple of plays had Jones blocking, but when he lined up out wide in the second quarter and caught a seven-yard pass from quarterback Matt McGloin, the move started to seem worth it.

The first-down grab was key in a 90-yard drive that set up Penn State’s third touchdown, and it earned Jones a new nickname.

“I was calling him ‘No-moves Jones’ there for a second,” McGloin joked. “I said, ‘You caught it and got tackled, you couldn’t do anything with it?’”

All jokes aside, though, Jones could be a big piece for the Lions’ offense as an F tight end. In the new offensive scheme O’Brien brought with him from the New England Patriots, the F tight end plays more like a true receiver than a blocker. Although Jones’ first on-field action in nearly three years had him using his 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame to block, his future in the offense could be as a prolific weapon in the passing game.

McGloin might have cracked jokes about Jones not doing much after receiving his lone catch of the game, but he did make a little move around a defender to pick up an extra yard or two after the catch.

Not exactly highlight-reel-worthy, but a flash of potential.

The only thing seemingly standing in his way is himself, and whether or not he wants to buy into his new role. Though he had reservations early on in the experiment, Jones seems ready to embrace his new position.

“I’m whatever (O’Brien) needs me to be,” Jones said. “I’m just gonna be open and try this new position. We’ll see how it goes after the season, we’ll talk and see what’s best for me.”

Jones didn’t seem quite ready to give up on his aspirations to play quarterback for Penn State in the future, which probably led to some of the reservations about playing tight end in the first place.

One could hardly blame him either.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another quarterback in the country with the size and physical ability of Jones. He came to Penn State rated the No. 2 high school quarterback in the country, but redshirted his freshman year with Rob Bolden and Kevin Newsome battling for the job.

Bolden won the job and Newsome eventually transferred to Temple, but Jones missed his chance again in 2011, practicing with the team but failing to see any game action due to academic troubles.

Matt McGloin, who split time with Bolden the past two seasons beat out Jones in the spring, and left him wondering if he would see the field this year. O’Brien hinted during the offseason and during camp that Jones would play.

He didn’t see any time against Ohio, and O’Brien kept him on the sideline in favor of true freshman Steven Bench when McGloin missed two series with an elbow injury against Virginia.

Suddenly relegated to third-string quarterback duties, Jones found himself in the position he is now by an off-hand comment he made during a film session after the Ohio game.

“We were watching Patriots film and Aaron Hernandez caught a lot of balls, and I was joking, ‘Coach, that could be me,’” Jones said. “We had a talk and he said I should try it out.”

After three years of toiling in practice in his red jersey, trying to see the field as a quarterback, Jones was playing at Beaver Stadium after two weeks of practice at a position he’s never played before.

In his first year playing football, Jones played center — he was 12 years old. His freshman year at Sto-Rox High School, near Pittsburgh, Jones played safety in addition to playing quarterback. He’s always been an athlete, serving as a captain for the basketball and baseball teams in high school.

Still, there was an adjustment to playing tight end, beginning with that red jersey, which he still wore for the first couple of days after the transition.

“The hardest part was doing it with a red jersey,” he said. “I’m a big guy, I don’t mind getting hit. I would catch the ball and people would freeze up. That was frustrating.”

He doesn’t have to worry about the red jersey anymore. Though he’s now listed as QB/TE on the team’s official roster, his immediate future lies in playing the latter.

O’Brien has shown he favors Bench at quarterback ahead of Jones should McGloin go down again. But the risk-taking new coach won’t shy away from throwing the ball Jones’ way.

Jones wasn’t the only player playing a new position Saturday. Injuries forced fullback Michael Zordich into more of a tailback’s role, and defensive tackle Jordan Hill found himself in the backfield on the Lions’ opening drive.

O’Brien has shown he’s not afraid to mix things up, but if Jones continues to grow, he’ll become more of a consistent component of the offense moreso than just a flavor-of-the-week.

“We’ll get him more involved,” O’Brien said. “He’s a great kid and I was glad to see him catch the ball. It was a good start for him. He also had a couple of blocks in there, too, which was good to see. We gotta keep building that package with him.”

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