Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer keeps a running list to track win-loss records for every player in every “competitive situation” from the start of practices in January through the end of the spring.
What counts as wins and losses varies on position. If a player is a wide receiver, how often is he able to break free of the secondary or fails to break coverage can be viewed as a win or loss. How often offensive linemen are able to hold off the charging defense is graded as a win or loss.
Meyer hasn’t looked at the win-loss records just yet, but he said he knows based on what he’s seen in practice that redshirt junior defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones will not have a lot of losses on his record. In the head coach’s mind, no one has had a better spring.
“For a guy to come back when a lot of people thought he should leave, a lot of times we have to deal with whether it be effort issues or, ‘Why am I doing this?’ issues. Zero,” Meyer said after Saturday’s Spring Game.
There was no guarantee Jones would even be a part of Ohio State’s roster heading into the spring. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound lineman was coming off a strong redshirt sophomore campaign in which he recorded 20 tackles — 10 solo and 10 assisted — with five tackles for loss, a sack, two defended passes and a blocked kick.
Jones was projected to come off the boards early in most NFL mock drafts, even if he wasn’t viewed as a first-round pick like some of his former teammates. Yet, he decided instead to return to Columbus for at least one more season.
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said in his past experience, players who stay at school instead of declaring for the NFL draft go one of two ways: either come in feeling they do not need spring practice because they’re already talented or come in feeling they still have much to improve.
Jones was the latter.
“He was a good football player in 2017, but he came in with the right mentality. He was going to get better, wasn’t just going to get through [spring practice], he was going to get better,” Schiano said. “And he did and another year of training and this offseason with [strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti] and now the summer, he’ll be a force in college football.”
Jones’ speed has never been a question. Long considered a strong pass rusher, he was frequently used early in drives to make up an imposing front-seven that could get after the quarterback as well as any group in the country. But late in downs as teams became more likely to run the ball, Jones was often substituted out for other defensive tackles.
Early in the spring, defensive end Nick Bosa said it was Jones’ goal to be featured more in nickel packages late in drives and get a chance to be more of a full-time starter rather than a situational defensive tackle.
Schiano believes Jones has done all he has needed to do to take on that role. He credited Jones’ physical improvements in the weight room and said his size will now make him a much more effective all-around defensive tackle.
“He’s always been a good pass-rusher. I think this spring he took another step,” Schiano said. “But I see it also in some of his run-defense play where he’s just more stout.”
The other players on the line have taken note of Jones’ improvements. Sophomore defensive end Chase Young said Jones has been good every year he has played, but that he could be at a different level heading into the 2018 season.
“He wasn’t getting blocked at all,” Young said. “Talking about like in the spring, he might get seven plays and he might get five sacks out of those seven plays.”
Jones had a chance to take his talent to the NFL. Instead, he felt he still had plenty left to learn at Ohio State.
If the coaches are correct about his spring improvements, the decision might pay off. He could simultaneously boost his own draft stock for next year while providing the Buckeyes with one of the most dynamic defensive tackles in college football.
“If he continues his development, he could be the best in America at what he does,” Meyer said.