Just before Ohio State’s preseason camp kicked off Thursday, coach Urban Meyer pulled Jamarco Jones aside on the practice field to chat.
“We were just talking about the O-line,” Jones said afterward. “He does that all the time. We talk a lot about the O-line and the direction we’re going and how players are developing. He comes to me and Billy quite a lot.”
Billy Price is the acknowledged leader of the line, which will be under much scrutiny this season. He is the only remaining lineman who started on the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship team.
But as Price transitions from guard to center, he understands how vital Jones is as a returning starter at left tackle. Price described the senior from Chicago as his “second quarterback,” who’s able to serve as additional eyes and ears.
Jones flew a bit under the radar last year, which is hardly a knock. Getting noticed isn’t always a good thing for a lineman. But Jones had a quietly impressive season as he received second-team All-Big Ten honors.
CFB Film Room, a website that dissects video for its analysis, ranked Jones in the 88th percentile nationally in pass-block efficiency. By comparison, Jones’ predecessor, first-round 2016 NFL draft pick Taylor Decker, was in the 72nd percentile the year before.
Late last season, when Ohio State’s line struggled, Jones held up. According to CFB Film Room, he allowed only two quarterback pressures in the Buckeyes’ final five games.
“He was one of our most improved players,” Meyer said.
Early in Jones’ career, Meyer said, Jones didn’t always stick to his fundamentals under duress, which is why he didn’t play much. But last year he did.
“He and obviously Pat Elflein were the two guys that when chaos was going around them, you could count on them to settle things down and do their job,” Meyer said. “It was just maturity. He’s turned into a heckuva player.”
With Elflein now playing for the Minnesota Vikings, Jones knows he has to emerge as a leader.
“This is my last year,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot over my years from the older guys. Last year it was more on Pat and Billy. Now with Pat gone, I have to step up and own that role myself and (share) all the things I’ve learned from guys over the years to bring guys along and help them develop.”
However well Jones may have played last year, an offensive line is usually judged as a unit. Jones knows he and his linemates have much to prove in 2017.
“We heard all the critics all offseason and during the season last year,” he said. “We heard it all. You never want to be labeled a bad unit or the pitfall on a team. I think it really pushed us a lot to prove a lot of people wrong, and we look forward to doing that this year.”