Jones looking to step up at middle linebacker
The middle linebacker has been notoriously known as the quarterback of the defense, and for the last three seasons, minus the 2014 Rose Bowl, Max Bullough has been that guy for MSU.
However, the three-time starter and captain has played his final games for the Spartans, leaving a hole that senior Taiwan Jones now will have to fill.
Through the first two weeks of spring practice, the former two-year starting outside linebacker said the transition from outside to inside linebacker hasn’t been too difficult since he played in the inside in high school.
“It’s not that much of an adjustment,” said Jones, who admitted he wanted to make the transition to middle linebacker eventually. “When I was in high school, I’m used to playing inside and came here and played outside, so it’s nothing too much (that) I can’t handle, but it’s of course a lot more to learn.”
Head coach Mark Dantonio said the transition has been smooth for Jones thus far, despite being nicked up after the first week of spring ball.
“You can see that he is comfortable with the play,” Dantonio said. “He can get in there and get off blocks and he can run and hit it.” unior defensive end Shilique Calhoun also has begun to notice Jones’s play already through the first two weeks of practice, but it’s the his growth in leadership that has caught Calhoun’s eye.
Calhoun said he was able to get an early look at Jones’s leadership skills last season when they played on the same side of the field, but he has taken the next step this year.
“He’s more so speaking out, coming out of his shell, trying to get everyone in position, get everyone focused, get everyone ready,” Calhoun said. “Before we run out there, he’s always there to talk to us ‘Hey, we need to pick it up,’ or ‘Hey good job, guys,’ so it’s nice to have him out there putting a little bass in his voice.”
The leadership skills from Jones will be needed after losing both Bullough and fellow three-time starting outside linebacker Denicos Allen. The two combined for 577 career tackles in 107 career games, but it’s the other intangibles that will need to be replaced.
Jones acknowledged learning plenty from the two. He knows he will have to become a more vocal leader for the new-look Spartan defense.
“We have other guys who need to step up, including myself,” Jones said. “So with that being said, we got to come out each day and push each other to the limit and just try to play to the best of our ability.”