Why Ohio State football right tackle Dawand Jones decided to return for senior season
Ohio State right tackle Dawand Jones waited until the last day for eligible underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft before settling on a stay-or-go decision.
But while it took him until Jan. 17 before announcing he would remain at Ohio State for his senior season, there was little suspense involved.
Jones said Thursday that he never leaned toward leaving.
“It was an option out there,” Jones said. “That’s how I’d put it. I’d rather come back, do whatever for the team and make myself better.”
The feedback he received from the league’s college advisory committee never made early entry into this spring’s draft enough of a serious consideration.
Jones said he picked up a fourth- or fifth-round grade and saw an opportunity for his stock to rise with another season of starting experience on the Buckeyes’ offensive line.
“He wanted to come back and be a first or second rounder,” coach Ryan Day said. “That's his goal. And he’s been challenged with a set of things he needs to get done if he wants to get there. He has the ability and the talent to be one of the better tackles in the country.
“Whether he is or not, there are certain things he's going to have to accomplish during the offseason and during the next season to get to that point.”
The biggest area of development for Jones ahead of next fall involves pass blocking.
In his debut as a starter, he made a quicker adjustment with run blocking, using his overwhelming size at 6 feet 8 and 360 pounds to open up holes for Ohio State’s running backs.
“That kind of comes naturally to me because of how big I am,” Jones said.
Dropping into pass protection came with a steeper learning curve.
For most of last season, Jones helped to keep quarterback C.J. Stroud secure in the pocket as the Buckeyes gave up the second-fewest sacks in the Big Ten. But there were a few blemishes. In the crushing loss to archrival Michigan, Jones surrendered a sack and allowed Stroud to be hurried, according to data from Pro Football Focus.
As a returning starter, he wants to be more consistent with pass blocking, an ability that will also later be under scrutiny from NFL teams amid the growing popularity of passing offenses in the league.
“If you can’t pass block, that’s a lot of money off the table,” Jones said.
Jones said newly hired offensive line coach Justin Frye has put in a series of drills for him to get better with pass protection, emphasizing the nuances of the tackle position such as picking the angles needed to head off edge rushers who are swarming into the backfield.
As a former high school basketball player from Indianapolis, Jones considers the movement to be similar to the footwork from his old sport.
On the court, he would often crouch in a defensive stance and slide in front of ball handlers who were headed toward the basket.
“Say a guy is driving baseline and you cut him off right there, and then he's working back,” Jones said. “You're just playing defense, and they're playing offense. That's how I picture it.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said part of Jones’ improvement involves matching up with opposing linemen.
“As big as he is and as talented as he is, the ability to handle 1-on-1 matchups, grown men on grown men,” Wilson said, “and being dominant is a huge challenge. The great players can do that.”
Looking to take a step forward as a senior, Jones said developing consistency in games began at practices, where he was hardening his focus.
“Making sure I show up every day for practice and every rep,” he said.