“I think Dre’Mont Jones has gone from a good player to a very good player and bordering on a great player.”
Those were the words of Urban Meyer back in the spring.
Dre’Mont Jones started 12 games for the Buckeyes last season at a position he had only been playing for a matter of months. He finished sixth on the team with 52 tackles.
His 44 tackles in Big Ten play were one more than Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, who won the B1G’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. Jones came to Ohio State as a defensive end in 2015, but made the move to defensive tackle after the season. He also had to completely reshape his body to make this happen. Arriving at OSU at 285 pounds, he dropped down to 260 pounds in order to add 20 pounds of good weight. He prepared for an opportunity, and when it came, he grabbed it with both hands.
When Tracy Sprinkle was injured in the season opener last year, Jones slid right in and the Buckeye defense hardly missed a beat.
The goal this season, however, isn’t just to keep the beat, it’s to pick up the pace.
“First year playing football at three technique, great job, great acceleration,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said this spring. “Now we’ve got to improve his pass-rush abilities. Our three techs, they get a lot of single blocks, so that guy has to be the guy inside to make our outside guys go. So it’s something we talked about and it’s something that we’re working to improve. So far, so good.”
For all of Jones’ activity last year, he only had four tackles for loss. The good news, however, is that three of those four tackles came over the final four games of the season. In other words, he got better each and every week.
His coaches will tell you that he is a very intelligent player who picks things up quickly. Jones has the football IQ that allows Johnson to move him around and ask different things of him. He is just a redshirt sophomore, so he is still learning, but he does everything he’s asked to do at full speed.
“Dre’Mont is a high-motor guy, so he does a lot of things for us,” said defensive end Tyquan Lewis. “He moves around a lot. He’s all over the place. I don’t think anyone can outrun him. It’s like he doesn’t get tired so he’s all over the place. It’s hard not to love him out on the field.”
Asked which of his former players had the “highest motor,” Johnson answered with former Penn State defensive end Tamba Hali, who was a first-round NFL Draft pick and former All-Pro.
“He’s close to Tamba Hali,” he said. “Tamba Hali was like that. He would run all day long. Dre’Mont can run like a running back. He can really run. Really smooth, transitional player. He’s in great shape. Dre’Mont is one of those guys who is in shape all the time. I think that makes a difference, he can go get the football.”
Last season was a fantastic debut for Jones, especially considering the position was new to him. Now that it is his home, he is putting his football IQ and motor to good use.
“Speed off the ball is one of my main things,” he said of his skill set. “That’s what I would say. Just go. I do know the play, but even if I didn’t know, just go regardless.”
He has focused on improving his run fits, but Johnson also wants him to be a more disruptive pass rusher. The two skills can co-exist as long as Jones continues to attack at the snap.
“Our three technique has to be dynamic because he gets so many single blocks in a slide protection,” Johnson explained. “If he’s dynamic, it makes our ends free. And so last year one of the things we evaluated, we thought he did a great job playing the run, a great job affecting the pass, but not a lot of sacks. So what we worked on this spring is improving that and it’s just a matter of technique. This spring he has been very effective. He’s bought into it. that’s the key. That’s what you want, for great players to buy into what you want them to improve on.”
Jones improved his pass rush so much in the spring that he had Johnson and Urban Meyer trying to find a way to get him on the field with the four Rushmen. How that will eventually come to be is a discussion for another day, but it speaks volumes to Jones’ growth as an all-around defender.
It also begs the question of what kind of ceiling we’re talking about here.
“I am not going to try and push him to it, we are just going to try and let it come naturally,” Johnson said. “He has a chance to be really special, just what he can do from the inside out. A guy who has great football IQ, a guy who loves the game. Now it is just putting all of it together. And I like where he is going right now, I really do.”