Ohio State linebacker Keandre Jones was once committed to play football for his home-state Maryland Terrapins, as was current Buckeye quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Eventually, both decided to attend Ohio State and now both are set to finally make their mark on the program they have been a part of since 2016.
Jones, who came to Ohio State as a 5-star prospect, spent his first two seasons behind Jerome Baker at Will linebacker. With Baker now off to the NFL, Jones worked with the ones throughout spring camp.
It would seem at this point that the only person who can keep Jones off the field now is himself.
What did his former mentor see from him this spring?
“He got his weight up,” Baker said. “He’s stronger. He knows the defense better. I’m just happy for him as far as him going out there and showing us what he can do.”
Knowing the defense allows Jones to put all of his tools to better use, which he showed in the spring.
“Just being more aggressive, more confident in my abilities,” Jones said of his areas of improvement. “Just having the older guys here really helped in paying attention to how they came out to practice, their demeanor and stuff, and being more prepared. I’m more prepared after two years.”
Watching Baker and Chris Worley last year showed Jones what it took to be a leader and what it took to make an impact on the defense. That’s why when he was getting first-team reps this spring, nothing really changed with his approach. He wasn’t thinking about what it could mean for him this season. All more opportunities in practice meant for him was that it gave him a chance to get better.
“I honestly just focus on the now and just being prepared and staying in the moment,” he said. “I don’t think too much in the future, just come out to practice every day and just be prepared. Play like I’ve been playing the last two years with practice and just learning reps, reps, reps.”
With a linebacker room as competitive and wide open as the one the Buckeyes are currently working with, every opportunity to improve or stand out is going to be measured. This being the start of Keandre Jones’ third season, he has put a lot on tape in his time at Ohio State, but what he showed this spring was his best work.
“Most definitely the game has slowed down,” He said. “Two years I’ve been here experiencing a lot of different positions, Sam and Will, bouncing back and forth, I have some experience now and I am more confident.”
This spring, linebackers coach Bill Davis was searching for three linebackers to be his starters, though he may have actually found four or five. In his search, he would move linebackers like Jones, Malik Harrison, and Pete Werner back and forth from Sam to Will. He needed to get a clearer picture of where each of the linebackers excelled.
“It’s actually easy because the Will and the Sam position are actually the same position,” Jones said. “It’s just Sam is more to the field so you’re playing out in the space more and I’m being able to show my flexibility, and Will is the weak side, little box, using my hands more. Basically the same position and nothing has really changed. The speed of the game is still the same.”
Keandre Jones played well at both spots, and his versatility allowed him to adjust on the fly. Davis may not know who his three starting linebackers are going to be this year, or where exactly they will play, but those who play the fastest are going to have a tremendous opportunity to win a job.
And Jones’ new-found confidence isn’t going to hurt either.
“You play faster,” he said. “You play faster and you’re ready to step up and be that guy.”