Keandre Jones hasn’t had many opportunities to make plays for Ohio State this season, at least not at his primary position of linebacker.
When he finally got an opportunity to make a big play for the Buckeyes in Saturday’s 36-31 win against Nebraska, however, he took advantage.
Jones hasn’t been part of Ohio State’s regular linebacker rotation this season, seeing just 51 snaps on defense all year – and just one in the Buckeyes’ last five games. He has been a regular contributor on special teams, though, lining up on the kickoff, kickoff return and punt block units.
It was on the latter of those units that Jones finally got his chance to make a game-changing play on Saturday. On Nebraska’s first punt of the game, the Cornhuskers failed to block Jones, and he put his speed on display as he made a beeline to the punter, knocking the ball off his foot and through the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety and two points for the Buckeyes.
Keandre Jones could have taken this off of his foot. pic.twitter.com/6gJ3Lw3A5I— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 3, 2018
As fellow Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner said on Wednesday, Jones wasn’t actually the player who was supposed to be in position to block that punt. But when he was left in position to block that punt by the opposing offensive line, he executed his job to perfection.
“Coach preaches that everybody’s got to run to that block spot, and somebody’s going to block the punt. And one of the guys blocked the guy that was supposed to, and he was the guy that didn’t get blocked and he was right there,” Werner said. “He did the right thing and didn’t take any false steps, and made a great play.”
Making that play was a confidence-booster for Jones that he hopes will give him momentum to carry through the stretch run of the season.
“Any time you’re able to help your team score some points, you get a good feeling,” Jones said Wednesday. “Scoring any points to help your team win a game is exciting, and have 100,000 fans cheering your team on is exciting.”
Jones was considered to be a frontrunner to earn a starting outside linebacker job this spring, and was at least expected to see a good amount of playing time in the rotation this season, but that hasn’t materialized for the junior linebacker, who has yet to see more than occasional playing time on defense so far in his career.
Could his big play against Nebraska, which earned him Ohio State’s special teams player of the week honors for Saturday’s game, help him earn a role in the linebacker rotation? Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that he would defer that decision to the defensive coaches, but said he has been impressed with Jones’ work on special teams this year.
“I love Keandre,” Meyer said. “He’s on all our special teams. And I don’t know exactly how many snaps he’s getting on defense, but that was obviously a big play, and that’s how you start earning your right to get more playing time.
“I’m very involved in the kicking game, and he’s done very well for us there.”
Surely, Jones would like to be seeing more playing time on defense, especially now that he is on the latter side of his Ohio State career. Yet in a media session that one reporter described as “the most energetic interview of the season so far” by any Ohio State player, Jones didn’t give off any indication of being frustrated with his role on the team.
Instead of getting upset about not playing more, Jones said he focuses on “staying positive” and “bringing a smile to everybody that I meet.”
“Keeping everybody, the young guys up, encouraging them to just go hard, play hard and trying to be a leader for this team,” Jones said. “Just staying positive and just realizing the main focus is winning every game and coming out here with energy, that’s the main goal.”
His teammates appreciate the positivity, energy and selflessness that he brings to the practice field every day and to the sideline during games.
“We have him going around different spots right now, so he’s (being forced) to learn a few different positions, but he’s doing a great job,” Werner said. “Ke’s one of those guys that whatever the coach asks for him, he’s going to do it and he’s going to do it as hard as he can. He’s just a big effort guy, knows his stuff and really gives it all he’s got every play.”
“Just staying positive and just realizing the main focus is winning every game and coming out here with energy, that’s the main goal.”– Ohio State linebacker Keandre Jones
Because of that mindset, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said Keandre Jones is viewed as one of the team’s vocal leaders on defense despite his lack of playing time.
“Whether he’s playing or not, he’s not a quitter,” Dre’Mont Jones said. “He’s going to be out there helping guys out, no matter what it is.”
Keandre Jones believes that if he keeps that mindset consistent, he will be prepared when opportunities to make plays do come his way – like he was on Saturday – and that he will ultimately get his chance to play a greater role on defense.
“It goes with just taking your pride, putting your pride to the side and doing whatever you have to do for this university and this team,” Jones said. “So I’m very patient, and my time’s going to come soon.”