Florida State football kicks off on Labor Day at Pitt. Tomahawk Nation previews the season up until that date by analyzing every player and other key issues facing the 2013 Seminoles.
No. 7 Christian Jones | 6-4, 235 | Senior | Linebacker
School Bio (courtesy Seminoles.com):
One of the top overall athletes on the team and FSU's returning top tackler who started all 14 games at weakside linebacker in 2012 after serving as the team's strongside linebacker in 2011. An impressive physical specimen who has above average speed and quickness, which makes him one of the leading candidates for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
Career to Date
Christian Jones came to Florida State as a legacy 'Nole, following in the footsteps of his father (Willie Sr.) and older brother (Willie Jr.), both of whom are former Seminole defensive ends. He was rated as one of the top outside linebacker prospects in the nation out of Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, holding a five-star grade according Rivals.com and ESPN.
As a freshman in 2010, Jones saw action in all 14 games for FSU, playing primarily on special teams with spot duty at linebacker. He officially announced his arrival as a sophomore, starting at strong-side 'backer and performing very well on his way to 56 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Playing in the role of "Sam" linebacker opposite Nigel Bradham at the "Will", Jones showed his ability to cover backs and tight ends while setting the edge and preventing big plays on the ground.
Had Jones made the leap that some expected him to make from his sophomore campaign to his junior year, he may be participating in an NFL training camp at this time. Instead, he opted to return to Tallahassee for his senior season after turning in a good-but-not-great effort in 2012.
While Jones' junior season certainly wasn't bad -- he led the team with 95 tackles to go along with seven TFL -- it didn't quite live up to the lofty expectations that he carried into the year, which illustrates just how high his ceiling is. After the departure of Bradham to the NFL, Jones made the switch to the Will position and did not look as comfortable away from his strong-side responsibilities.
Bud has speculated in the past that some of Jones' shortcomings could have been due to below average coaching from now-departed linebackers coach Greg Hudson. This is logical given that the LB unit as a whole under performed during Hudson's tenure. Whatever the reasons may have been, Jones did not display a great ability to make quick reads while playing the Will spot.
New linebacker coach Charles Kelly has had a spring to work with Jones, and it will be up to him to maximize the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder's abilities within Jeremy Pruitt's new scheme. The Seminoles did not reveal much in the spring game, going with mostly vanilla looks in the exhibition, but indications are that Pruitt will employ a more attacking style than the 'Noles have used in the last few seasons.
Jones' length and speed could make him a weapon as a rusher off the edge on passing downs, whether it be as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment or with his hand in the ground as a defensive end (he played two full drives at DE in the spring game). This is an element of Jones' game that we did not see as much of under Mark Stoops, though there was no need, with ends Werner and Carradine crashing off the edge. It seems that the defensive staff may mix it up a bit with Jones this fall, and it would be surprising to see him go without a sack as he did in '12. With defensive end as a question entering the year, some expect Jones to rush the passer a lot.
Jones should once again be near the top of the team in take downs in 2013, and the Seminoles are hoping he shows better instincts in the new defense that will allow his raw athletic ability to take over. His athleticism allows him to do a lot, including cover receivers like Sammy Watkins in the slot. Jimbo Fisher has called him one of the best coverage linebackers he has ever been around. While the slot isn't the optimal spot for Jones, there aren't many linebackers in the world are capable of running with No. 2 from Clemson. If Jones can improve his instincts and play recognition, he could be a terror for opposing offenses.
It has been evident that Jones is a future NFL linebacker for some time now, and he will have the chance to play himself into a solid draft position with an outstanding season in the new system.
2013 will also offer Jones the chance to showcase versatility, as Jimbo Fisher indicated he and Telvin Smith will switch between MIKE and WILL linebacker, depending in the situation. If he shows well as a pass rusher, and continues to be an excellent cover backer, the versatility added from playing all three spots at points in his career will only help his draft stock that much more.