Jones tries his hand at wide receiver
MOBILE, Ala. -- The NFL teams have forms they fill out for each of the players available in the draft. They break the player down by statistic, characteristic, test score, ice cream flavor, anything imaginable to separate one potential draftee from the next.
There is no form for Matt Jones.
The 6-6, 242-pound Arkansas quarterback is working out at wide receiver for the South team in the Senior Bowl. And tight end. And quarterback. He's even made a couple of punt snaps.
"I have friends that coach in high school," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, the South coach, said Tuesday evening. "My next-door neighbor coaches Pop Warner. I've never gone to a practice and seen a guy play quarterback, wide receiver and tight end."
One AFC executive watching Jones at practice Tuesday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium called him "one of the most mesmerizing guys I've seen." Last fall, LSU coach Nick Saban, now with the Miami Dolphins, called him "the guy we're most scared of."
Jones finished his career with the Razorbacks first in the Southeastern Conference in career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,535). He threw for 5,857 yards and 53 touchdowns in four seasons. A year ago, he averaged 5.0 points and 4.5 rebounds for the basketball Hogs.
Jones went through one spring practice at wide receiver for Arkansas, but coach Houston Nutt figured out quickly he had to get the ball in the hands of his best athlete and returned Jones to quarterback. Jones' athleticism is the reason that the NFL wants to see him at wide receiver, a request that Senior Bowl executive director Steve Hale made of Jones.
The Senior Bowl has a history of being the place where quarterbacks who don't fit the NFL mold begin to change positions. Three years ago, Antwaan Randle El of Indiana came to Mobile, moved to wide receiver/punt returner and won the Senior Bowl MVP. The same year, Clemson quarterback Woodrow Dantzler moved to tailback and made little impression.
Randle El wanted to make the switch. Dantzler didn't. Jones said he understands the difference.
|“||It's obvious that he has talent. We have given him a lot. He handled it well. You could see he hasn't played the position. I think he will be an H-type back because he is so big. If you get a defensive back on him, it's a mismatch. There's a place for a guy like that. ”|
|— Bucs WR coach Richard Mann on Matt Jones|
With his long blond hair, sleepy eyes, and miserly way with words, Jones defines "laconic", except when he has the ball in his hands.
"He runs easy," Gruden said.
"A strider," Tampa Bay wide receivers coach Richard Mann said.
Jones is lining up as the "Z" receiver in the Tampa Bay offense. He is wide on the strong side, and lines up in the slot on the weak side. He is running all kinds of routes -- deep down the sideline, quick slants, drags into the flat, across the middle.
The Bucs coaching staff has made accommodations for Jones. Offensive quality control coach Kyle Shanahan has been assigned to answer any and all of Jones' questions, from how to run a play to how to run a route. Gruden gave the players free time from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday. Shanahan immediately walked over to Jones and scheduled a 1:30 p.m. study session.
"A lot of what he is learning, other guys already know," Mann said Tuesday morning. "It's obvious that he has talent. We have given him a lot. He handled it well. You could see he hasn't played the position. I think he will be an H-type back because he is so big. If you get a defensive back on him, it's a mismatch. There's a place for a guy like that."
The question is where? Is he fast enough to play wide? Can he master the blocking necessary to play tight end? And what about long snapping?
"I don't know how much of a long snapper I'll be," Jones said with a grin. "He had me in there with the second team in case something happens."
Next month, at the NFL combine, Jones will work out with the quarterbacks. It's something he wants to do, perhaps so he won't have to ask himself "What if?" In the meantime, Jones has made the catch of the week for the South team thus far, going deep and beating LSU corner Corey Webster on Monday.
"Hopefully, by the end of the week," Gruden said, "his projection will be clearer. I wouldn't be surprised if he is playing for somebody quickly."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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