The transfer portal never sleeps.
Even in June, college football programs are still building their rosters for the 2021 season. When Ole Miss starting linebacker Jacquez Jones entered the portal last week, the fit made obvious sense.
After a quick visit to Lexington, the 235-pound off-ball linebacker transfer out of Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Hillcrest ended the trip with a commitment by picking Kentucky over South Carolina, Liberty, UCLA, and West Virginia. The senior will have two years of eligibility remaining and will be immediately eligible to play in 2021.
Now we move over to the KSR Film Room to show what Jones is bringing to Brad White’s defense. The transfer is a two-down Mike linebacker that is at his best when asked to play downhill and stuff the run.
When digging into the tape from the 2020 season, the performance against Indiana in the Outback Bowl was easily the best of the season for Jones. The inside linebacker did a very good job fitting up the Hoosiers’ inside zone rush attack.
Lined up in 12 personnel with two tight ends lined up on the line into the boundary, Indiana runs an inside zone look. Jones (No. 32) is the Mike linebacker on this snap and does a good job recognizing the look. The linebacker does not overpursue and allows the action to come to him. Once it does, the linebacker strikes the tight end to disengage showing some pop with his hands. Afterward, the linebacker finishes the play with a solid tackle on a north/south rusher.
Play recognition, striking ability, and tackling all show up on this rep. Jones does a really good job of defending inside runs when asked to play in the box.
Read and react is a big part of the game for inside linebackers, but occasionally stunts will be called. Linebackers must be able to shoot gaps when their number is called and create some havoc at the point of attack. Anytime Jones can get downhill, good things usually happen for the defense.
The linebacker easily slips by the tight end into the boundary on the zone-blocking scheme. This block disruption leads Jones directly to the football. The linebacker then delivers another tackle on the short-yardage play. Again, Jones is at his best when allowed to stuff the run.
Zone blocking is all the rage in football now, but there are still plenty of opponents on Kentucky’s schedule that will use gap schemes. These are plays such as power or counter that require backside offensive linemen or tight ends to pull for lead or kick-out blocks. These concepts are in the wheelhouse for Jones.
On the gap run, Florida pulls the backside guard and tight end as dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones follows the calvary after a play-fake. Jones stays under control and reads the play the entire way. When the quarterback turns north/south, the linebacker is in perfect position and finishes with a wrap-and-drag tackle for a minimal gain.
This is an addition that helps enhance the biggest strength of the Kentucky defense. The Wildcats have a sturdy backbone with three seniors — nose tackle Marquan McCall, Will linebacker DeAndre Square, and safety Yusuf Corker — set to play major snaps this season. Jones adds to that by giving the defense a player that has played in 33 games with 182 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles in his career. This fills a major hole at Mike, but Jones isn’t the player he is replacing.
Jamin Davis was a superstar linebacker who could fit the run, cover running backs and tight ends in space, cover major ground in the open field, and occasionally rush the passer when needed. Jones is a player that can struggle with playing in space, but when allowed to get inside the tackles and fit the run, the bulky inside linebacker is at his best.
Kentucky will need to be creative with how their personnel is used this season, but Jones gives the program something that was lost when D’Eryk Jackson was injured during spring practice. A downhill thumper at Mike linebacker that can help stymie inside rushing attacks.