Troy football notebook: Marcus Jones continues to be a bright spot for Trojans
TROY – Even after watching a 2½-hour session Tuesday he called “the worst practice we’ve had in two years,” there was still a way to bring a smile – well, maybe half a smile – to Troy head coach Neal Brown’s face.
Ask him about Marcus Jones.
The rising sophomore from Enterprise who developed into a standout cornerback as a true freshman, Jones has done nothing in the first four practices of spring to tamp down the lofty expectations that will follow him into the 2018 season.
“He’s been our best player through four practices, period,” Brown said. “He’s competitive. He has a desire to get better. He’s not resting on his laurels. You wouldn’t come out here and think he was a freshman All-American last year.”
But he was. Jones gained national attention when he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season. He averaged 30.3 yards per kickoff return. However, he played plenty of defense as the season wore on and finished fifth on the team with 49 tackles – 34 of those were solo stops. He broke up six passes and intercepted two – one he brought back 100 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas State.
“He’s fun to coach. He takes care of what he’s supposed to off the field,” Brown said. “He’s hungry to learn. He’s humble. He’s what you want. I think he’s only continued to get better.”
Jones did not go through spring practice last season. He was wrapping up his senior year at Enterprise High. He joined the team after the school year end ed . In less than a calendar year, he’s gone from being a player who asks a lot of questions to one who is answering them.
“We’ve got a lot of people that’s new, new corners, so we’ve got to teach them,” Jones said, adding the senior corners helped him immeasurably last season. “It’s a little transition, but it’s not that bad. They told me I’ve got to get my leadership role because we had corners leave, so now I’m playing the leadership role, too.”
Jalen Harris, Tyquae Russell and Kam Melton were all senior corners last season.
Blace Brown, a rising senior, is recovering from surgery and is sitting out contact this spring. Jones said a couple newer faces have made a good early impression.
“Orlando Lacey from Opp. He’s doing real good,” Jones said of the redshirt freshman. “Terence (Dunlap) coming back. He’s learning more of the defense and getting quick on his feet.”
Jones said there is a different feeling from spring practice to fall practice.
“Spring is way more physical,” he said. “In the fall, you’re basically getting ready for the next game. Now, we don’t have any games, so every day you’ve got to go hard.”
Even though this is his first spring practice, last year’s experience has been invaluable.
“I’m real comfortable. The freshman year, you have to adapt from high school to college,” Jones said. “College, I mean, you’ve got to work it hard every day. There’s no slacking. Especially playing corner, all it takes is one play and it’s over with.”
He brings that sense of urgency to work every day, Brown said.
“He’s young. The thing about him, he had mono and missed three weeks of our offseason program,” the coach said. “He’s coming out here and hasn’t been able to do anything until last week. … I think he’s only continued to get better.”
Rough outing: Tuesday’s practice in full pads was a tough day for the Trojans.
“I thought it lacked intensity. I thought the offense was embarrassing,” Brown said. “Defensively, they won the day, but it wasn’t very good. It was more the offense losing. We had some good individual plays defensively, but this football team – as it was today – that’s not good enough.
“My challenge to the football team is we’ve got to have some toughness about us. We’ve got to have some guys when things don’t go well to step up. We didn’t have that today and we really haven’t had it the last two practices.”
Brown said the disappointing thing is he knows the potential of this team.
“The standard has been raised. This practice, it probably would have been average back in 2013 when we weren’t any good. When we couldn’t get out of our own way, we probably would have been OK with this,” the coach said. “But right here, we’ve won 21 games (in the past two seasons).
“ We’ve got a bunch of guys who have played a ton of football. This was embarrassingly bad today. We’ve got our faculty out here. We’ve got 10 to 12 Division I scholarship type football players, recruits-wise, and I’m embarrassed they had to watch that today.”
What’s next: Troy next practices at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and will go again on Saturday morning. The spring’s first scrimmage is set for April 6 and the annual T-Day spring game is set for noon on April 21.