August 20, 2012
D-Notes: Jairus Jones still the man
EAST LANSING - Jairus Jones continued his storybook preseason over the weekend, coming out of Saturday's Jersey Scrimmage holding onto first-string status at field safety. Although Jones is repping as the first-string free safety in the regular 11, he is a second-stringer in the nickel defense package.
The Spartans came into training camp expecting sophomore Kurtis Drummond and redshirt freshman RJ Williamson to compete for the job opening vacated by the graduation of Trenton Robinson.
Instead, veteran Jairus Jones has edged ahead of the younger guys, thanks to shedding a few pounds and adding speed.
Jones said he improved his speed by running sprints while wearing a weight vest.
"The last two summers, (because of injury) I had to focus on getting stronger and I couldn't really work on my speed," Jones said. "This is the first time I spent the summer and the off-season focusing on getting faster."
It has worked. And now Jones, who was expected to compete with Isaiah Lewis for the starting strong safety job last year but was sidelined for several months with an Achilles rupture, is back in the mix as a leading candidate to get on the field.
"We are all playing at a high level," Jones said. "There is not much separation. Whether it is me, Kurtis or Roger (R.J.), we'll still have the best secondary in the country."
Lewis went on to become second-team All-Big Ten last year. Jones made it back to the field in time to help out in the nickel package in an emergency role at Iowa, but he was relegated to the bench for most of the year. The previous year, Jones saw time in the nickel defense as a deep safety when the Spartans clinched the Big Ten Championship at Penn State.
Lewis was motivated by Lewis's example.
"I feel like if he could do that and ball like he was, I felt that I could probably do the same thing if I got the opportunity," Jones said. "I didn't want to have a jealousy factor. I knew he was good. I was very happy for him.
"Last year wasn't really a low point for me because we were winning and I enjoyed watching our team win like that but as an individual I felt bad because I wanted to be out there."
LT 'Humbled' By Last Year
Redshirt freshman Lawrence Thomas missed Saturday's scrimmage due to a concussion. He was cleared to practice on Monday and is eager to close out August camp with some momentum.
He is repping as a third-string defensive end on the "rush" side, behind William Gholston and Joel Heath.
"Last I looked I was third, but they said they would have something for me," Thomas said.
They could possibly have something for him in the nickel defense, where he has been working as a second-string nose tackle behind senior Tyler Hoover.
Thomas (6-3, 287, R-Fr., Detroit Renaissance) is a former five-star recruit who came to Michigan State as a growing, big-boned middle linebacker. He has since grown out of that position and reported at 292 pounds. He says he is down to 287 and feeling quicker.
"He is in a position where there is a lot of depth at the defensive end position," said head coach Mark Dantonio. "But when he plays he is very active and he's very athletic. He can be a force but you are still waiting for him to learn all the different aspects, but he will make it to the field."
Thomas redshirted last year after sustaining an injury. He played with the scout team during the second half of the season, but then sat out the spring after corrective surgery.
"Last year was tough," he said. "I can really say it made me a better person. Sitting back, it humbled me a lot and allowed me in the off-season to get better, get stronger, get mentally tough, know the plays, know the system, and learn the game more, the speed of the game and everything like that. That was a big transition. It was tough, but this year is going to be a great year.
"After practice every day I do extra lifting and conditioning, trying to get my body in shape, doing extra weight work to strengthen my shoulder."
Moving from Mike linebacker to defensive end has been a difficult process. But playing d-end is easier in one respect.
"At Mike linebacker you have to know all the plays from pretty much all the positions, so going to defensive end took a lot of (pressure) off me," he said. "Now I can just think about one position and go."
William Gholston and Marcus Rush are Michigan State's starting defensive ends, making up arguably the best tandem in the Big Ten.
Redshirt freshmen Shilique Calhoun and Joel Heath gained second-string status at defensive end during the spring and still hold down those jobs.
"You'll see both of those guys play next Friday," Dantonio said.
Thomas is a third-stringer at d-end, along with junior Jeremy Gainer.
Gainer is coming off a pretty good spring, and impressed d-coordinator Pat Narduzzi at the outset of August camp.
"As fast as Jeremy looked in the spring, he's faster now," Narduzzi said at the outset of camp. "We talk about lights going off for some of these guys, a light went off for Jeremy Gainer and I'm interested to see where that's going to take him."
When the first-string nickel defense trots onto the field in third-down passing situations, Jones trots off, and is replaced in the deep middle by Williamson AND Drummond while Lewis moves up to the slot area to play MSU's 'star' position. That puts three safeties on the field, but Jones isn't one of them.
"Everybody is going to get playing time," Jones said.
Jones on true freshman safety Demetrious Cox:
"He is a very athletic guy. He just has to get into the books a little bit and he is going to be a great player."
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