Dre’Mont Jones was already one of Ohio State’s best players entering this year’s spring practices.
According to his head coach and defensive coordinator, he’s even better now.
"Dre’Mont Jones has been elite," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said on last week’s Big Ten spring teleconference. "Even better than he was last year."
Following Saturday’s spring game, Meyer took that praise even further.
"The guy that has probably had the best spring of anybody on our team this spring is Dre’Mont Jones," Meyer said. "He was outstanding this spring."
Coming off of his redshirt sophomore season last year, Jones was widely expected to enter the 2018 NFL draft, for which he was projected to be an early-round pick. Instead, however, Jones opted to remain a Buckeye for one more year – a decision that puts Jones on track to leave Ohio State with his degree and gives him another shot to compete for a championship, but also gives him the potential to elevate his game to a level that could make him an even higher draft pick in 2019.
So far, Meyer says that’s exactly what he’s done.
"For a guy to come back, when a lot of people thought he should leave; a lot of times we have to deal with whether it be effort issues, or 'Why am I doing this?' issues," Meyer said. "Zero. And that’s a credit to his family and (defensive line coach) Larry Johnson. He had a great spring. And if he continues his development, he could be one of the best in America at what he does."
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano echoed a similar sentiment about Jones’ effort this spring.
"I’m thrilled as well with the spring he had," Schiano said. "He did not come into this spring to try to get through it, like a lot of guys would that have the talent and have had the kind of season he had last year. He came into this spring really trying to improve his game, and he did that."
“The guy that has probably had the best spring of anybody on our team this spring is Dre’Mont Jones.”– Urban Meyer
Meyer says the Buckeyes kept track all spring of how many times each player won and how many times each player lost whenever they did any drills that put the players in competitive situations. And when the coaching staff adds up those numbers this week, Meyer expects Jones’ win-loss record to put him right at or near the top of the standings.
"When they meet with me next week, I’m going to have a sheet of paper in front of me that’s going to say 'How many times have you won, how many lost,'" Meyer said Saturday. "And that’s why I’m so proud of Dre’Mont, is I can’t wait to see it. I got a feeling, I know what it’s going to look like. Not a whole lot of losses in there, in the competitive situations."
Jones didn’t see much playing time in the spring game, but that’s only because Meyer has been trying to protect Jones and some of the Buckeyes’ other established veterans this spring in order to avoid risking injuries in unnecessary situations. Once the actual games begin this fall, Jones is expected to play a bigger role than ever before – which he hinted at being another reason why he came back when he met with the media to discuss his decision in January.
While Jones led Ohio State defensive tackles with 441 snaps played last season, and was regularly disruptive when he was on the field, he didn’t see much playing time on third downs, as the Buckeyes’ "Rushmen" package last season consisted of four defensive ends. This year, however, Jones is expected to be a three-down defensive tackle, enabling him to put his interior pass-rushing ability on full display.
Schiano said Saturday that Jones improved as both a pass-rusher and a run-stopper this spring.
"You see that in some of his pass-rush moves. He’s always been a good pass-rusher, I think this spring he took another step," Schiano said of Jones. "But I see it also in some of his run defensive play, where he’s just more stout. Now again, that all is another year in (strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti)’s weight program, another year of working with Coach J, and that’s why experience does matter."
Jones was a third-team All-Big Ten selection last season, and in that standpoint, he might have been underrated, as the box score didn’t always reflect the impact he made from play to play. This year, though, Jones has the potential to emerge as an All-American candidate – and a first-round pick for the 2019 NFL draft – if he can perform this fall like his coaches and teammates say he has this spring.
"Dre’Mont’s been good every year he played, but this year it might be something different," said fellow Ohio State defensive lineman Chase Young.