Penn State Football: The Catch About Paul Jones at Tight End
We have met the future of Penn State football, and his name is Paul Jones.
Switching positions. Simplified playbook. Getting the best athlete on the field. Making the best of players from the previous regime. Starting a fire under a non-starter.
No more languishing on the bench (in this case, due to Steven Bench).
Jones was a 6-foot-3, 258-pound walking reminder: What do we do with this guy?
Wearing No. 7, Jones was No. 2 on the Penn State depth chart after spring drills. At quarterback. If not now, then maybe sometime soon, he could be No. 2 at the “F” tight end spot. As No. 13.
Lucky for him? I think so. Lucky for Bill O’Brien? Quite possibly.
Concurrently, it’s time for the new coach to put up his Dukes – as in Curtis Dukes. The large-sized runner isn’t so big on the Penn State playbook and, as a result, didn’t get a single carry in Penn State’s season-opening loss. Seven days later, yes Virginia, he was a viable offensive option, with 10 carries.
Like Jones is expected to get, Dukes knows a package of plays. Call them Curtis … er, Cliff … Notes. Jones’ playbook as a tight end is less Patriot Games and more Hunger Games: bigger type, broader audience, simpler concept, 31 percent fewer pages.
Both playbooks are page-turners – if your name is Bill O’Brien.
Not to give away the ending, but the hope is the moves – and the truncated tomes – will yield more than Penn State’s current 15 points per game. Both Jones and Dukes were in the offensive mix midweek, when the Lions were installing their offense for Navy (speaking of Tom Clancy).
Look for that offense to include a few twists as well:
Maybe more runs by fullback Michael Zordich, who has only three carries this year and 38 for his career. Quite possibly an end-around or two. More passes to the backs. A few more vertical shots. Plus pounding runs inside the 20 and 10, if the opportunity presents itself.
It would be to the tune of a more Ryan Seacrest-like Top 40 offense: Simpler, a variety, more understandable by the masses (including Dukes and Jones). That’s not to say the retooled play-calling will give Akeel Lynch a chance at any playing time, but O’Brien hopes it will help cure a desultory 43 percent touchdown performance inside the 20-yard line.
Or, as we prefer to call it, the Bill O’Brien Sees Red Zone. (And make no mistake about it, that is where OB is thinking TD and not FG. No JK.)
“There were things that we did in that Virginia game that we can do better,” O’Brien said about the red zone, “like limiting the length of the play call and simplifying things for Matt (McGloin) to get us into the proper play. And then as far as the players go, just when they get out there, once we do simplify things, just executing it better.”
Enter Jones, now that he is lending a hand to the Penn State receiving corps. In fact, these days it’s all hands on deck.
A lack of quality receivers may be now be the Nittany Lions’ biggest problem. Hands down.
Joe Paterno wanted to make quarterbacks “Linebacker U” star pupils. His successor has a propensity for tight ends. Same idea. As a result, Jones was catching passes at practice Wednesday afternoon with the Nittany Lion wide and slot receivers.
Wearing his new white No. 13, Jones was on the receiving end of passes from former QB competitors McGloin and Bench, both sporting red jerseys to designate “hands-off” to any defenders.
At the other end of the field were the Penn State tight ends, blocking. None of that for Jones, not now.
The F, said O’Brien, “is somebody that can play out wide as a wide receiver. It's somebody that can play in a wing position in the formation. It's somebody that's a move guy, somebody that can line up in the backfield.”
So Jones joined the 11 remaining route-running receivers at Wednesday’s practice. Of that group, only two have caught a pass in 2012. Sophomore Allen Robinson has grabbed 19, in fact, ranking him atop the Big Ten list in both receptions and yardage.
At 6-foot-3 and averaging 9.8 yards per catch, with a calm demeanor and a businesslike manner, Robinson is head and shoulders above the rest of the Nittany Lion receiving corps. Figuratively and literally.
The other pass-catcher is Alex Kenney, the state indoor 60-meter record-holder from State College now in his third year at Penn State. Kenney has caught five passes for 71 yards, with many of his yards against Virginia coming after he caught the ball.
But that’s it.
As a group in 2011, the 12 collectively caught all of eight balls (of 181 completions). Robinson had three, Brandon Moseby-Felder had four (and zero in 2012) and Christian Kuntz had one. That’s 6.6 percent of total receptions.
In drills on Wednesday, McGloin and Bench alternately dropped back to pump fake and throw short, medium and medium long passes to the wide and slot receivers.
Midway through the exercise Jones ran a route over the middle and nicely snagged a thigh-high pass while still in stride.
After that, he took a breather, taking off his helmet and standing behind the drop-backs of McGloin and Bench – the only quarterbacks in the drill and clearly the only two signal-callers who matter. Jones wore a pair of black gloves, a diamond stud earring and a look of tired nonchalance.
When his turn came up in line, Jones buckled up his helmet and lined up split right. He ran a decently deep out, about 30 yards. As he veered to the sideline Jones glanced back and saw the ball coming, slightly off-course.
Jones reached out with one hand and grabbed it. He pulled in the ball while staying inbounds. His teammates let loose with an “ohhh,” half in awe, half in mock derision.
Two catches too good to be true.
With that -- as if it were choreographed -- Jones’ reception was the final one of the drill.
And, we may soon see, the first one of the rest of his Penn State career.
- Penn State Football: Fourth Down Calls and Stickin' With Ficken are O’Brien’s Style - Sept. 10, 2012
- Penn State Football: 5 Ways to Fix the Nittany Lion Defense - Sept. 2, 2012