SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A month and a half ago, Jarron Jones wasn't Jarron Jones — he was Leonard Williams, star defensive end for USC.
Jones, then a reserve defensive lineman who mainly worked on special teams, was dropped to Notre Dame's scout team following its Oct. 5 win over Arizona State. That meant Jones didn't have a chance to assert himself in practice — instead, he had to try to mimic a successful defensive lineman in USC's Williams.
Offensive lineman Chris Watt did say Jones "gave us a good look there," but for Jones it was a "humbling experience."
Jones admitted he wasn't "taking stuff seriously" — coach Brian Kelly specifically mentioned his classwork had slipped — and needed the kick in the pants of being dropped to scout team.
"That taught me how to be more consistent, going down there and working with them, since they practice hard on a consistent basis," Jones said after Notre Dame's win over BYU. "That taught me how to practice harder on a consistent basis."
Consistency was exactly what Kelly wanted to see out of Jones in dropping him down to the scout team. The timing was fortuitous — Louis Nix hurt his knee in Notre Dame's next game, and Kona Schwenke sprained his ankle two weeks later.
All of a sudden, Jones was elevated into a far more prominent role. Nix returned for the Nov. 9 game against Pitt but underwent knee surgery last week, ending his season. Schwenke was extremely limited against BYU, leading to Jones taking the majority of snaps at nose guard.
He acquitted himself well, too, recording seven tackles and blocking a field goal. While Kelly said he saw a game like that coming, the level of play Jones sustained surprised at least one of his teammates.
"It might've been towards the end of the game, I was looking up at the scoreboard, and I see (Dan) Fox, eight tackles, Jones — I'm like, T.J. Jones?" laughed Watt. "I was like wow, seven (tackles). That's good for us, having younger guys stepping up in this program, especially going into next year."
Jones' performance against BYU offered hope that Notre Dame might avoid a significant dropoff at nose guard if Nix leaves for the NFL (Schwenke will be lost to graduation, too).
Without anyone else currently in the program who could step in there — this would be where Eddie Vanderdoes, the five-star defensive tackle who decided to go to UCLA instead of Notre Dame in June, would've come in handy — Jones very well could be the guy inside next year.
For now, though, Jones is trying to keep things in perspective
"At the end of the day, it's just one game," Jones said. "Obviously, I can get so much better, there's always room for improvement, obviously for me there's a lot more room for improvement. So it's a stepping stone. It lets me build off of something."
That's more than he could've said on the scout team.