Kellen Jones' first impression turning heads

Clemson's Kellen Jones and Clemson's Tony Steward during the first day of spring practice in Clemson.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Kellen Jones and Clemson's Tony Steward during the first day of spring practice in Clemson.

It didn’t take long for Oklahoma linebacker transfer Kellen Jones to make an impact, even in a redshirt season.

The 6-1 215 Jones was Jadeveon Clowney, Corey Lemonier and also one of LSU’s talented bookends on the scout team – praised by coaches during the fall for giving the Tigers' o-line a feel for speed-rushers.

That would seem to be an odd fit, but the Houston, Tx. native played defensive end and dreamed of being the next Dwight Freeney, up to his junior season of high school when he was moved to linebacker.

Jones relished the opportunity to help in the year he had to sit out as a transfer, while preparing for this season.

“I always thought of it as a positive,” Jones said. “I didn’t redshirt my freshman year at Oklahoma. I treated it as a redshirt year.

“I felt like I could help the team – on offense, give them a good look and just improve myself and work on my fundamentals.”

Jones competing at WILL

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The transition hasn’t stopped for the sophomore though, moving from middle to weakside (or WILL) linebacker. He says the biggest differences between the spots are assignments, stunts and needing to be “more athletic in space.”

“A big turn for me with the WILL, I haven’t played it before,” said Jones. “I have to be more open-minded because sometimes I can get very frustrated and screw myself up mentally. I just have to stay focused.

“With coach ( Brent Venables) here now, I feel much better.”

Jones followed the Tigers’ defensive coordinator from Oklahoma to Clemson last offseason, after playing sparingly as a freshman in a backup role in 2011.

Venables’ assessment of Jones so far? Work in progress.

“(Jones is) a guy that’s anxious to play,” he said. “His willingness to work is still a work in progress. He’s got a good attitude and good ability as far as instincts and his ability to find the ball.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney see the potential.

“He’s got a little bit of that Tig Willard in him,” Swinney said, “that he can kinda slither through some cracks that you wouldn’t think he could get through.

“He plays like somebody stole his last $100 bill. That’s a good thing at that position in particular.”

Drawing that kind of praise already serves as motivation for Jones.

“To hear that from my head coach, that’s definitely a big compliment,” Jones said. “I really enjoy accepting that – that’s a joy to my ears to hear that from coach Swinney, the head man. I feel as though I try to improve every day and just get better at my position.”

When spring practice resumes on Thursday, his position battle at WILL with senior Spencer Shuey is back on.

Shuey had a breakout 2012 taking over in the middle for Stephone Anthony midseason, averaging a team-leading tackle per every 5.4 snaps (93 total, second behind Willard). Jones respects his opponent for the starting spot, and they’re helping each other.

“It’s a big competition,” he said. “Shuey is very good linebacker. I tip my hat to him. He’s a great player. He helps me out as far as learning the plays. He has very good instincts.”

Jones sees the defense improving as a unit this spring.

“A totally different defense. We already have a year under our belt in the system,” he said. “A lot of guys aren’t thinking so much right now – they’re familiar with the defense and can go ahead and use their athleticism to their advantage.”

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