- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
THE NEWS SPREAD LIKE WILDFIRE ACROSS EAST LANSING: GREG JONES WAS coming back. Last January the linebacker—a possible first-round pick in the NFL draft—announced that he would be returning for his senior year. "I definitely felt like there was unfinished business," Jones said. ¶ The Spartans would agree. "The jolt we got from Jones returning was huge for this program, there's no doubt," says coach Mark Dantonio. "Coming off such a disappointing season, it sent an important message to this whole team that we have a chance to keep on building something special here."
As a junior All-America last year Jones was first in the Big Ten and third among all defenders in the nation with 154 total tackles (67 solo, 87 assisted). Not since Percy Snow dominated teams in the late 1980s has a linebacker been the face of the Spartans. After Michigan State dropped Michigan 26-20 in overtime last October (with Jones making eight tackles and returning a key fumble 15 yards in the fourth quarter), Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez was asked what kind of player Jones was. "When he hits you, you get on the ground," the coach replied.
Jones has come a long way: He didn't play football seriously until high school and was an unheralded recruit coming out of Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati. Dantonio landed Jones, one of the first players he recruited after he was hired by Michigan State in 2007, when Jones backed out of an initial commitment to Minnesota. Jones made an instant impact—he was the first true freshman since 1976 to lead the Spartans in tackles, with 78 in '07, and as a sophomore he led the team again, with 127.
This year the Spartans will need Jones to not only terrorize opponents but also to take a more vocal leadership role on a team that finished last in passing defense and eighth in total defense in the Big Ten last season. The Spartans believe Jones can thrive in their new 3-4 scheme, which should allow the speedy, athletic linebacker to make more plays.
"He is one of the greatest linebackers that has ever played here," says Dantonio. "He's unblockable on the field. But you're also talking about a two-time captain who is a tremendous leader. His work ethic is unbelievable, and the guys follow in his footsteps. What you see in games is what you see in practice. He's always at 100 percent."
An art and music aficionado, Jones grew up in Cincinnati thinking that one day he'd be a music teacher. He played the trumpet in high school and loved drawing. But Jones also spent his time studying NFL linebackers like Ray Lewis and Takeo Spikes. His greatest asset as a player is his quickness: Using his 4.5 speed in the 40, he flies around the field and, as Dantonio says, "seems to be at the end of every play." He is considered undersized for an NFL middle linebacker, but this winter and spring he devoted himself to the weight room. He added 15 pounds to his 6' 1" frame—220 pounds as a freshman, he now weighs in at 240—in order to match up even better with 300-pound linemen.
Dantonio says Jones has trained and practiced with still greater intensity after making the decision to return. Says the coach, "He's determined to have his best year yet. He's ready to lead the way for us."