Jones having a breakthrough


A.J. Jones has matured thanks to some competition at linebacker.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 4:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 4:50 p.m.

Those who marveled at his athletic prowess in Jacksonville last Saturday may find this hard to believe, but Florida linebacker A.J. Jones is considered clumsy by his teammates.

Yes, that A.J. Jones. The guy who tipped a pass and deftly made a diving interception in the opening seconds of the second half. The guy who intercepted another Joe Cox pass later in the game and seemed to be making tackles all over the field in UF's 41-17 victory over Georgia.

Those certainly did not appear to be the acts of a clumsy football player.

But ...

"We think he's one of the clumsiest people on our team," junior cornerback Joe Haden said. "Sometimes at practice he'll be tripping over his own feet. When he made those plays, everyone was real happy for him. We didn't really expect him to do that. We were really happy he could make plays like that.

"I've seen him in practice where he's covering a running back and he'll trip over his own feet. We sit and laugh at A.J. sometimes, because sometimes he's real clumsy."

There certainly wasn't anything clumsy about his performance Saturday. He had the two picks, broke up another pass and recorded two tackles for losses, a sack and six total tackles.

As for the clumsy label, Haden was being only half serious, apparently.

"They like to make fun of him, but A.J. is a great player, man," center Maurkice Pouncey said.

He's starting to show it with his play. This has been a breakout season for Jones, and Saturday's game was a defining moment for the junior from Tampa.

"It felt real good," he said. "I got burned (on a pass to the tight end) early in the first half, but my teammates didn't get on me. They gave me confidence to come back and be strong. I said, 'I'm going to make it up to you.'

"I was blessed to go in that and make those plays. I guess I made up for it."

This season, Jones has been making up for a lot of things that didn't go right early in his UF career.

In his redshirt freshman season (2007), Jones started nine games, basically because there was no one else to put in there. Facing no competition on the practice field, he didn't push himself and earned the reputation of being an underachiever.

"I was thrown in there and I never had to work for it," Jones said. "There was no one pushing me."

Last season, he started the first nine games before spraining his knee. During the two games Jones was out, sophomore Brandon Hicks played so well that when Jones did return, he couldn't get his job back.

Now, Hicks is in the same position Jones was a year ago. When Hicks missed the first two games with an injury, Jones regained the starting role and now is playing so well Hicks can't get the job back.

"I know he's a grown man now and really taking care of his business," UF coach Urban Meyer said of Jones. "He's a program guy. He's the result of (strength and conditioning coordinator) Mickey Marotti and the great family (Jones) comes from. He's a much different player than he was. He earned that.

"I'm really proud of a guy like that. He does well. He's high-character person. Good things usually happen to a guy like that."

Jones said the competition with Hicks has helped change him.

"Competition brings out the best in a person," he said. "That changed a lot. I felt like I really had to go out there and work for something, to try to get better every time I went out there. I know if I'm not getting better, someone else is.

"Even when Hicks was out (with an injury) in the spring and early this season, I had the mindset that I was going to keep pushing myself. I knew he'd be pushing me if he was healthy."

Now, both are healthy and pushing each other. Jones is staying in front, even if he trips occasionally on the practice field.

Jones said his clumsiness isn't always what it appears.

"It's fun. I just try to bring some excitement to practice," he said. "I try to keep the boys' spirits up, have some fun out there.

"Sometimes it's an act. Sometimes I might hit the ground once or twice. It is what it is. It gets people to laugh."

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or at andreur@gvillesun.com.

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