Work in Sports
Keeping up with the Jones'
Arizona grabs Virginia RB, pair of Volunteers
Posted: Sunday April 16, 2000 12:39 AM
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Hoping to rev up one of the worst ground games in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals made quick, elusive Thomas Jones of Virginia the seventh pick overall in Saturday's draft.
Jones, who earned his degree in psychology in three years and set an Atlantic Coast Conference record with six 200-yard rushing games, is the first running back selected by the Cardinals in the first round since they 1993, when they drafted Garrison Hearst only to cut him three years later.
"I wasn't surprised at all," Jones said. "I talked to the Cardinals at the combine and I think we were real excited about each other."
Arizona went to the University of Tennessee for defensive help in the second and third rounds. They chose Raynoch Thompson, a 6-foot-2, 217-pound outside linebacker, in the second round (1st overall). Thompson's teammate Darwin Walker, a 6-2, 293-pound defensive tackle, was Arizona's third-round choice (71st overall).
Jones gained 3,998 yards in his college career, fourth-most ever in the ACC. As a senior, he rushed for a school record 1,908 yards.
The Cardinals, who ranked 29th out of 31 teams in rushing last season, will list hard-running but injury-prone Michael Pittman as the first-team tailback. Coach Vince Tobin said Jones will have a chance to win the starting job.
"He brings a little different style of football to the table than Michael does, which I think is always good," Tobin said, "to have two different type of backs to give defenses a different set of problems to deal with. He has great shiftiness and quickness in the open field to make people miss."
Cardinals general manager Bob Ferguson worried that someone would trade up to get Jones ahead of Arizona. No trades materialized, then Baltimore chose running back Jamal Lewis of Tennessee at No. 5, then Philadelphia picked defensive tackle Corey Simon of Florida State.
The way was cleared for the Cardinals to get Jones, one of seven children who grew up in a large family in Big Stone Gap, Va., where his father works in his prison and his mother worked for many years in a coal mine.
"It's a great story," Ferguson said. "It really is. It's one of those great things for a family. He is that kind of guy. He fits what Vince likes in a person. He fits what we like in a player."
Ferguson had several reasons he believed Jones was a better pick than the other three top running backs -- Lewis, Ron Dayne and Shaun Alexander.
"His play-making ability on his own," Ferguson said. "His ability to be elusive in the open field. You saw the highlights. He has great feet. He's 205 pounds, but he's not a big back. If anything, that's the real concern, but he's got great durability for a guy his size.
"He's got explosive quickness. He loves the game. He's a great team player. He wants to be here."
The 5-foot-10 Jones, who patterns his game after that of Marshall Faulk, said he is not concerned about the Cardinals' reputation for being difficult to deal with over contracts. Jones' agent, Tom Condon, also represents Tom Knight, a first-round pick in 1997 and the only Arizona first-rounder in the last four years to sign a contract before the start of training camp.
"As far as I'm concerned, the first day of mini-camp, the first day of training camp, I'm there it," Jones said.
Thompson and Warren have played on the Cardinals' home field at Sun Devil Stadium twice. Tennessee beat Florida State for the national championship there in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, and the Vols lost to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl this year.
Thompson has a history of overcoming injuries and other medical problems. Last season, he came back from double-hernia surgery without missing a game.
"I can't stand being away from the game, so injuries don't slow me down, unless it's a major injury," Thompson said. "I just love playing the game."
Walker had expected to be chosen higher.
"Absolutely, I was very disappointed," he said. "But I'm very happy with the Arizona Cardinals. I love the city of Phoenix. Now I've got to prove to the rest of the NFL that they made a big mistake."