Competitive advantage
Jonesí arrival brings swagger to MUís defensive backfield.

By JOE WALLJASPER of the Tribuneís staff

Story ran on Thursday, September 27 2001

Growing up in the San Francisco area, R.J. Jones didnít know enough about Missouriís football program to form an opinion. But the Nebraska Cornhuskers, they were hard to miss, no matter how hard Jones tried. The mere sight of the Big Red on TV elicited a Pavlovian response in his remote-control trigger finger.

Brendan Smialowski photo
Missouri cornerback R.J. Jones (6) is expected to play his first game on Saturday against fourth-ranked Nebraska after sitting out the first two with an injury. The MU coaches love Jonesí competitive spirit.
"Boring," said Jones, a junior cornerback for the Tigers. "They donít pass. Option and run up the middle, that ainít fun football. Iím from the West Coast. We pass it, use speed to run away from you.

"This is one of those teams you donít even want to watch. They have a good defense, and Iím a defensive player and like to watch corners, but offensively, you donít even want to watch when theyíre on the field."

Missouri fans have often felt the same way while watching the Cornhuskers, although itís usually been a case of averting their eyes from the carnage. Nebraskaís offense is certainly predictable - it usually ranks among the nationís best and pads those statistics against the Tigers. In 22 straight victories over Missouri, the Cornhuskers have won by an average score of 39-14.

The return of Jones from a separated collarbone should help MUís cause this time around. The transfer from City College of San Francisco was one of the Tigersí best defensive players in the spring.

He got hurt on the first day of training camp in Mexico, Mo., when freshman receiver Sean Coffey landed on his chest. Jones needed surgery to pop the bone back into place. He has waited impatiently to play since.

He was cleared to practice a week and a half ago and got to remove his red protective jersey on Sunday. MU coach Gary Pinkel said if Jones proves he can hit this week in practice, he will play a lot against the Cornhuskers on Saturday.

"If I have to go in a foxhole and grab somebody, heís one of the guys on this team Iíll grab," Pinkel said. "I like competitors. He will compete. I wish I could get our whole football team to compete like he does."

After the Bowling Green debacle in the season opener, Missouriís coaches have resorted to waiting a few beats after a ball-carrier is stopped in practice before blowing their whistles. The idea is to get lethargic defenders to play harder longer. Itís not necessary in Jonesí case.

"Come out to the field and watch him, and youíll say, ĎMan, that kid is working hard,í or ĎMan, that guyís all over the field,í " defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "Iím sure itís much like you had when" Justin "Smith was here."

Jones needs that competitive streak because heís not an imposing physical specimen. He arrived from CCSF, where he won two juco national championships, weighing 150 pounds. Heís still spindly at 6-foot and 160. His speed is pedestrian by cornerback standards - 4.5 seconds in the 40.

Jones says his quickness coming out of cuts makes up for his lack of straight-line speed. And despite his frail physique, he loves to hit.

"He plays a rough, in-your-face style, and heís not a very big guy," sophomore cornerback Marcus James said. "It goes to show that effort can take you a long way."

Jones will get plenty of chances at hand-to-hand combat against the option and power-running game of Nebraska. Thatís fine by him.

"If Iím on the fourth team going against the ones, I expect to win," he said. "If Iím going against Jerry Rice or Tim Brown, even if those players are good, I ainít backing down from nobody. I donít care who you are."

Reach Joe Walljasper at (573) 815-1783 or