UK Football

Keeping up with Kentucky’s Jones? Good luck with that

Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones sacked Southern Mississippi quarterback Nick Mullens during the first quarter at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones sacked Southern Mississippi quarterback Nick Mullens during the first quarter at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. Ken Weaver

Starbucks should scrap the green mermaid and put Jordan Jones on its cups instead.

Thanks to Kentucky’s sophomore linebacker, his teammates never need to bother with caffeine for early-morning workouts.

“He’s my morning coffee,” true freshman Drake Jackson said back in March. “I’m there half awake and he comes in dancing and singing. He wakes me up right away. He’s an energetic guy.”

Kentucky fans got a taste of Jones’ energy on Saturday night. He was the bright spot on a defense that allowed Southern Miss to bounce back from a 25-point deficit and walk away from Commonwealth Stadium with a 44-35 victory.

In the loss, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder had more tackles by halftime than he had all of last season (10). He finished with a team-best 19 tackles in all, with two tackles for loss and one quarterback sack.

Jones’ 19 tackles were tied for most nationally with Kevin Davis, a senior linebacker at Colorado State.

“Jordan Jones played exceptionally well,” said Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, who noted that Jones was out for about 80 of the 96 total snaps run by the Golden Eagles last week. The sophomore missed two assignments total.

“He was all over the field,” Stoops said. “He made, what? Nineteen tackles, a sack and a QB hit. So he was running around and he showed the explosiveness and the speed that you’re looking for. That was good to see.”

If coaches are being honest, they weren’t sure what they were going to see from Jones this season. They knew from last season, spent mostly on special teams, and from the spring that he was a high-energy guy.

“Jordan has a very enthusiastic personality. Some people may find that annoying, but I don’t,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot laughed. “I don’t. But he brings that love for the game every day, 100 percent effort on every play, and enthusiasm.”

But Stoops wasn’t pleased with the sophomore after the first scrimmage of the fall, calling him out for perhaps being too energetic and not listening to his coaches.

“I was disappointed in assignments,” Stoops said of Jones. “Just got out there and wanted to run around instead of taking care of his business and then play.”

Coaches were so displeased with Jones at the start of fall camp that they penciled in redshirt freshman Eli Brown at starting weakside linebacker.

Jones admitted then that sometimes it’s difficult to harness his energy.

“I just want to go,” he explained. “I have to remember that I have to read all my keys first and be disciplined with my eyes.”

He was able to just go and have loads of success his final two seasons at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio.

As a senior, he had 185 tackles, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and four recovered fumbles.

As a junior, he had 123 tackles, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumbles returned for scores and 27 tackles for loss.

He also played running back. Energy might be an understatement.

“When he’s out there on the field, he doesn’t stop,” said UK middle linebacker Courtney Love, also a former Cardinal Mooney standout. “You have to tell him sometimes, ‘Like, slow down.’ … You want to tell some guys to speed up, but you’ve got to tell him to slow down, which is good.”

And when he hits you, you feel it, assured Jackson, the offensive lineman who arrived on campus for spring practices weighing in at 302 pounds.

“I wasn’t expecting it because he’s one of the lighter linebackers, but he popped me, shook me and pulled me to the ground,” Jackson said. “I was like ‘Dang, he’s going to be a stud.’”

In general, Jones’ megamotor with a mouth to match isn’t really directed so much at opponents across the line as it is at his own teammates. He wants everyone to play with gusto.

“I’ll talk to those guys when those guys are flat,” he said of his defensive teammates this spring, but it undoubtedly applies again this week after Saturday’s poor finish. “I’ll be the first guy to say something to them and wake them up.”

Jones’ energy gets every player on the team going, and not just in the mornings in the locker room.

Love said: “You want guys like that, because that rubs off on everybody else and that creates a positive energy, great vibes for the defense.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Staff writer John Clay contributed to this report.

Next game

Kentucky at Florida

3:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS-27)

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