Jones starts Heis­man cam­paign, again

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Zach Helfand zach.helfand@la­times.com Twit­ter: @zhelfand

One year af­ter cor­ner­back Jack Jones set foot on USC’s cam­pus and de­clared that he would win the Heis­man Tro­phy as a fresh­man, Jones re­turned hum­bler.

A year of learn­ing be­hind Adoree’ Jack­son turned him mel­lower.

A year of play­ing mostly re­serve duty made him … no, just kid­ding. Jones said Wed­nes­day that he again ex­pects to win the Heis­man Tro­phy.

“Good luck, Sam,” Jones said, re­fer­ring to USC quar­ter­back Sam Darnold, a le­git­i­mate Heis­man can­di­date.

USC fans should get used to the pro­nounce­ment.

“It ain’t chang­ing,” Jones said. “It’s every year.”

USC is re­ly­ing on Jones to as­sume the role va­cated by Jack­son, who won last sea­son’s Jim Thorpe Award, given to the top de­fen­sive back in the na­tion.

As a fresh­man, Jones flashed his ex­plo­sive­ness but also his over-ea­ger­ness. Re­plac­ing Jack­son af­ter an in­jury dur­ing the Rose Bowl, Jones flirted with disas­ter while try­ing to get a jump on one long route late.

Se­condary coach Ron­nie Brad­ford worked with Jones in the spring on get­ting him­self in the right po­si­tion first, be­fore wor­ry­ing about big plays. In train­ing camp, Brad­ford said, he wanted to see con­sis­tency out of his cor­ner­backs.

Jones has re­turned con­fi­dent as ever. In USC’s first three prac­tices, he has played cor­ner­back at a high level, if not a tro­phy-wor­thy level. But he bal­anced his bravado with ma­tu­rity Wed­nes­day. He said he un­der­stands that declar­ing him­self a Heis­man can­di­date every year grates on some peo­ple.

“It’s just about bring­ing the best out of me,” Jones said. “That’s all it is. I want to push my­self, re­ally. I’m go­ing to be my big­gest critic, and I’m gonna be my big­gest fan. So I want to see my­self win that Heis­man.”

In­ter­nally, though, Jones re­set his own ex­pec­ta­tions. As a fresh­man, he wanted to play on of­fense, de­fense and special teams. Pa­tience did not come eas­ily. (“I mean, life is fast,” Jones said.)

“Com­ing in, I was look­ing at the game as if it was high school, and that last year just helped me open my eyes and just let me know it’s not high school at all,” he said. “It’s noth­ing like high school. It will never be like high school.”

As for play­ing of­fense, he said, “I’m not re­ally fo­cused on it. If I do, great. I’m gonna kill it if I do. But I’m not press­ing it.”

Team­mates treat Jones’ an­nual pro­nounce­ment with amuse­ment and some sup­port.

“If he wants to win the Heis­man, go ahead and do it,” safety Chris Hawkins said Satur­day af­ter USC’s first prac­tice of train­ing camp. “I think it’s gonna be hard, just based off of what po­si­tion he plays for us. But I mean, if he wants to win the Heis­man, I’ll never shoot any­body’s shot down, if he’s go­ing to do what he’s gonna do. If he’s play­ing well like he played to­day, I think he’s got a chance. So keep dream­ing.”

Fel­low start­ing cor­ner­back Iman Mar­shall said he be­lieves in Jones’ chances. Prob­a­bly of more rel­e­vance for USC this sea­son, Mar­shall said Jones has learned to match his in­stincts at cor­ner­back with more con­trol.

“That dude’s out­stand­ing,” Mar­shall said.

As ev­i­dence: Jones mus­cled Jalen Greene off of a wheel route Wed­nes­day, redi­rect­ing him enough to man­u­fac­ture a Marvell Tell III in­ter­cep­tion of Darnold’s pass.

Was it the first punch thrown in the Heis­man race? Coach Clay Hel­ton de­clined to hand­i­cap where Jones and Darnold stood.

“I’m glad both are Tro­jans,” Hel­ton said. “I’ll tell you what, credit to Jack, he is much more busi­nesslike and ma­ture in this camp.”

Hel­ton was on to some­thing. A few mo­ments ear­lier, Jones even con­vinced him­self that Darnold may have the early edge.

“I’m root­ing for him,” Jones said. “Sam is a great guy. I love Sam. Yeah, Sam is just right. I feel like Sam is gonna get it. Hon­estly, I feel like Sam is gonna get it.”

Then he added: “But just know I’m com­ing for him.” Nico Falah and Toa Loben­dahn split rep­e­ti­tions at cen­ter in USC’s first three prac­tices, but that doesn’t mean one won’t ul­ti­mately play else­where.

“They’re go­ing to play a lot of ball,” Hel­ton said.

Falah has 13 starts and Loben­dahn has 21. Loben­dahn has played on oc­ca­sion at left tackle dur­ing train­ing camp, but Clay­ton John­ston has taken a ma­jor­ity of the snaps at the po­si­tion. John­ston, Hel­ton said, had an im­pres­sive spring, “so we’re giv­ing him a good look.”

But Hel­ton said of Falah and Loben­dahn, “I would be sur­prised if they’re not in the top five when it’s all said and done.” Re­ceiver Keyshawn Young left prac­tice with what Hel­ton called a strained ham­string.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

USC COR­NER­BACK Jack Jones con­sid­ers him­self a can­di­date for the Heis­man Tro­phy.

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