By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Chris Jones insists that he is still a defensive end.
Although Jones has added 55 pounds since his days at Houston High School last year, the now 6-foot-5, 305-pounder still wants to play the position that made him one of the most sought after recruits in the country.
Jones, a true freshman at Mississippi State, started his first college game at defensive tackle last week and recorded a pair of tackles. But Jones is in a light-hearted clash with coach Dan Mullen to remain at end on occasion.
“I’m still telling coach Mullen that the defensive end is still in me,” Jones said. “I’m not fully a D-tackle. I’m a partial D-tackle and a full D-end. We’re trying to battle that out. Hopefully I’ll get moved back to D-end. I’ve got my fingers crossed.”
The former Hilltopper might get his wish as early as this weekend when MSU travels to Auburn to begin conference play.
“He’s athletic enough to play (defensive) end for us but when you’re playing a lot of the hurry-up, spread teams he gives you an athlete inside,” Mullen said. “Our thought was moving him inside for the first two games. I know (Auburn) has some tempo but is a little bit more of a power running team than the last two teams that we faced so he could move back out to end this week.”
Jones practiced at both positions along the Bulldogs defensive line during training camp. The shift down to defensive tackle was quite a change from playing outside the edge.
“At defensive tackle you get doubled teamed a lot and at defensive end you’re more one-on-one and just try to beat that man in front of you,” Jones said. “At defensive tackle, you’ve got a big 300-pound offensive lineman whamming you off the line. You’ve got to hit him before he hits you.”
Although he has outgrown the conventional defensive end size, Jones still wants to test his speed and quickness to see if he still has what it takes to play outside in college.
“At D-end, I still want to go a couple more reps to see if I’ve still got it every now and then,” Jones said. “I’m not asking for it every game, just every now and then as a surprise.”
Jones rose through the ranks from an under-the-radar recruit to a consensus five-star prospect following standout performances in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic and the Under Armour All-American game.
He led Houston with 160 tackles, 14 sacks, 10 pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown as a senior.
But Jones quickly discovered playing in college would be more difficult.
“In high school you can beat everybody with speed and you really don’t have to use your hands,” Jones said. “Technique is really not a big thing in high school but in college it’s major.”