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Penn State Football: Backup QB Paul Jones Looking to Earn Passing Grade on Field

on August 08, 2012 6:00 AM

Backup quarterback Paul Jones has been on Penn State’s campus for 32 months now and he has yet to take a snap in a regular-season game for the Nittany Lions.

He tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Shawney Kersey in the Blue-White Game in the spring of 2010, but a redshirt season and another where he was academically ineligible have limited Jones to scout-team snaps the past two years.

Now a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore, Jones has persevered. He has climbed to No. 2 on the depth chart behind starter Matt McGloin in first-year coach Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense.

By earning the backup role, Jones helped hasten the departure of another four-star quarterback, Rob Bolden, a one-time starter who transferred to LSU.

“I’m blessed to be in the position where I’m gonna play a little bit in the fall and not worry about academic issues because I handled all that stuff,” Jones said at last month’s Lift For Life event. “It’s a relief, I guess you could say.

“I can’t wait. That’s what I came here to do, play in games. I think it will be fun.”

McGloin, a former walk-on, said he has been impressed with Jones’ progress and work ethic, although Jones – rated a four-star recruit coming out of Sto-Rox High School in suburban Pittsburgh – looked a bit sluggish in part of Monday’s first preseason practice session that was open to the media.

“Paul’s been doing a good job with the offense,” McGloin said. “We have become pretty good. I have been working with him to try and get him ready to go in there and make some plays for us if we need him.”

In high school, Jones threw for 5,667 yards and 60 touchdowns, was ranked the No. 2 prep quarterback in the nation as a senior by and played in the 2010 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

His numbers at Penn State – 5-for-8 for 67 yards and two TDs – don’t count, since they were accumulated in the team’s annual spring game.

Jones has been impressed with O’Brien’s offense, which is predicated on multiple looks, short-range throws and tight-end heavy formations.

“I think it’s fun,” Jones said. “But, from what I’m being told, it’s only the tip of the iceberg and there’s a lot more to come. I can’t wait to see the finished product.”

Make no mistake, the losses of star tailback Silas Redd to USC and leading returning wide receiver Justin Brown to Oklahoma because of the harsh NCAA sanctions leveled against Penn State last month, are going to hurt.

Sophomore Bill Belton, a former wide receiver, is the top option to replace Redd. And of the top returning receivers, none have caught more than five passes in their careers.

Jones, like a lot of other players who opted to remain with the program despite all the offseason turmoil, hopes to make a contribution to O’Brien’s offense.

O’Brien’s message to Jones was rather simple.

“He told me, 'Just be more sure of myself,’ ” Jones said. “Sometimes, I’m too tough on myself. I’m a perfectionist. I get mad when things don’t go my way.

“I just have to do my best every day and see what happens.”

Jones also takes full responsibility for his academic struggles at Penn State, which were a bit surprising to some, considering he was the first student to ever graduate early from his high school.

“When I first got here (as an early enrollee in January 2010), I was 17 years old,” he said. “When you give a 17-year-old pretty much seven days a week to do whatever they want ... There’s a lot more free time in college and I wasn’t ready for it.

“Coming from high school, I played three sports (football, baseball and basketball), so I was always at practice or school. And here, you work out for an hour or two and you go to school and there’s still 20 hours you got to fill up on your schedule.

“If I had to go about it again, I’d do it different, of course.”

Jones, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, is enjoying his fresh start – academically and athletically. And, as the backup quarterback, he realizes he’s just one snap away from playing in his first regular-season game for the Nittany Lions.

At long last, he has something to smile about.

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