Then-Iowa State redshirt freshman cornerback Brian Peavy never let up. He told nickel/outside linebacker Jay Jones he should join him on the back end — and he wouldn’t regret it.
“I told him all the time,” Peavy recalled. “All the time. Because I see big corners all the time.”
Once the Cyclones’ new staff came in and digested game tape, they came to the same conclusion and a metamorphosis took place.
Jones — all 6-3 of him — became a corner for his senior season.
“He was really excited,” defensive backs coach D.K. McDonald said. “He was kind of a lost puppy standing outside my office. Right when I told him he kind of lit up like a kid on Christmas day and it shows too.”
Sort of, but unwrapping the gifts took time. Jones prepared himself for yet another transition. He’d already remade himself via JUCO, at the Georgia Military College. Now another personal revolution beckons and he’s warming to it on a daily basis.
“I’m excited about it because I’ve got guys like Peavy, Nigel (Tribune) and D’Andre Payne, Troy Vincent, Stephon Brown, all those guys — Jomal Wiltz — It’s challenging because I see them succeed at the position so well, so easy, and I’m over there struggling, the biggest one, looking clumsy,” said Jones, who posted two sacks and defended five passes last season before nagging injuries diminished his productivity. “But just reinventing myself, that’s definitely a challenge that I like and I’m willing to take it.”
A 6-3 cornerback for the Cyclones? Makes sense. Matt Campbell and his staff immediately noticed Jones’s length and athleticism while studying video on their new team. It didn’t take long for the Jones-to-corner idea to take root in their minds.
“Jay has got a unique skill set and we’ve kind of moved Jay around,” Campbell said. “I think his settling point is at corner. You’re talking about a big, long guy that can play, can use his hands in some press coverage, really a huge asset down in the red zone at times for us.”
Exactly, thought Peavy, who carved out a niche for himself last season via two double-digit tackles games and solid coverage.
Having a guy like Jones nearby, along with Tribune, Payne, Wiltz and others — particularly in nickel and dime situations — only strengthens ISU’s deepest position group.
“We have a great mixture: three seniors and a couple new guys,” said Peavy, who led the Cyclones with 82 tackles, 10 pass breakups and 12 passes defended last season. “No conflict at all. Were coming together. Great DB room. We have depth. That’s always a good thing.”
That talent pool is creating a good kind of quandary for Campbell and his defensive assistants.
While they want to base themselves in a 4-2-5 configuration, the depth on the back end allows room for experimentation — finding out what set works best for this group of players.
“Everybody says, ‘Well, we’re 4-2-5,’” Campbell said. “Well, not really. I think until we figure out what we’ve got, are we a 3-4, a 3-3 stack or a 4-2, or a 4-3, what is that and the reality of it? Then obviously it’s such a matchup game on the defensive side now too, as far as where do those guys fit? I do think one of the nice things we have is some flexibility because of our back end. We’ve got some, in my opinion, some really high-end back-end football players that can play and do some different things for us and play in different spots because they’ve got some football awareness to them.”
Jones fully joined that back end with a blend of eagerness and mild skepticism. He’d been remade last year. Now he’s facing another personal transformation.
“At first, initially, I was just like corner?” said Jones, who compiled 39 of his 49 tackles in the first seven games last season. “I was thinking like safety or something, but coach D.K. kind of influenced me. He just told me, ‘Just work with it and you’ve got to believe in yourself and if you compete, we’ll see where we’re you’re at.’ Just hearing that just gave me somewhat of a motivation to go and try a new position and compete at the highest level I possible can.”
That’s what Peavy — who coaches new and old call the ultimate competitor — had been preaching all along.
Adding Jones to the corner position gives ISU an extra edge, along with a couple more precious inches in terms of height and wingspan.
“Big guy,” Peavy said. “I used to play with him around practice all the time, ‘Come play corner.’ Kinda messing around a little bit.”
No kidding now. Time to lock down, improve and create a last line of defense in a new era.
“I know there’s going to be bumps in the road,” Jones said. “The long run, that’s what (McDonald) told me. Just trust into the process and the finished product will definitely be better than where you start on day one.”