April 7, 2013

Jones taking advantage of fresh start at RMU

The arm is unmistakable. An observer could stand behind the crowd of offensive players at Joe Walton Stadium and, without looking at the man throwing the ball, identify a throw from Paul Jones.

It's the power and the touch from that arm, plus his 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame, that led Jones to be a highly sought-after recruit out of Sto-Rox High School in 2009. It's that arm that led Penn State fans to hope he'd be the next elite quarterback.

It's an arm that Penn State fans never got a chance to see in a game. Three years after Jones landed in State College as a mid-year enrollee in January 2010, he's enjoying a fresh start at Robert Morris.

"It feels good. First day, I was a little rusty. But I'm getting back to the swing of things and feeling comfortable," Jones said. "I think the biggest adjustment is just trying to win over my teammates, let them know I'm trustworthy and that I'm going to do whatever I can to get the job done."

College has been a series of challenges for Jones. He redshirted his first year, mirroring the likes of Terrelle Pryor and Denard Robinson on the scout team while learning the Nittany Lions playbook. He sat out the following year for academics, and finally appeared poised to win the starting job in Bill O'Brien's first year. Matt McGloin won instead, and eventually O'Brien decided to move Jones to tight end.

Despite liking the campus, despite enjoying his time in State College with his teammates, Jones understandably wanted more. With eyes on a fresh start and the chance to play quarterback, Jones left the program in late September.

"For three years, I loved Penn State. I liked being there. I just didn't want to get myself in any situation that I'd regret," Jones said.

When it came time to search for a new school, Jones cast a wide net.

"I didn't want to be too far away from home," he said, "but I didn't want to limit myself."

Jones made another decision that helped define his search process for a new home. He didn't want his departure to be tied to the Jerry Sandusky sanctions, which granted Penn State players the opportunity to transfer to another FBS school without sitting out a year.

"I wanted to distance myself from that, because I kind of wanted to approach it like that didn't happen," Jones said.

That decision opened up the possibility of playing at Division I FCS schools. With additional options on the table, Jones could truly try to locate the best fit, regardless of class. He spoke with schools out west and in Florida, but his new home ended up being just a few miles away from his old high school.

Jones' connections to Robert Morris go beyond more than location. Jones would visit former linebacker and current defensive assistant Alex DiMichele, who was the older brother of Jones' best friend, when DiMichele and Robert Morris would play during Jones' high school career. With 28 other former WPIAL players on the Robert Morris roster, Jones received plenty of feedback from people he trusted.

"It meant a lot. When I had schools from Florida or other schools, I didn't have that many people I had previous relationships with," Jones said. "So when everyone knew I was interested in coming here, a lot of the guys that I went to high school combines with, they reached out to me, told me how they liked the place and what they felt about it."

That level of comfort took care of the search for a second home. A wide open quarterback spot certainly helped seal the deal. With four-year starter Jeff Sinclair graduating, Robert Morris had no immediate successor in line. Jones would have a chance to compete with rising sophomore Derik Abbott and two incoming freshmen.

Jones committed on November 12 and enrolled in January. He's immersed himself in Robert Morris culture - he was a frequent presence at basketball games - and with his teammates. He's also immersed himself in Joe Walton's playbook, a complex pro-style system that Walton has used for most of his coaching career.

"It's pretty different. Because this offense has been around for so long, I'm able to relate things that I know for sure, just compare the two to make it easier for me to remember it," Jones said. "I've been lucky enough to like all the offenses that I've been in, and I like this one a lot. If you get it, it's a good offense. There's a lot of keys, a lot to get down, but once you get it down, you can have fun with it."

Not even a week into spring drills, Jones looks comfortable. There are hiccups. The running game is an intricate dance that gives even experienced quarterbacks trouble. There are throws on the back shoulder of a receiver or a pass in the flats that's off target because of improper footwork.

But there are also times where everything clicks, such as the 35-yard perfect toss down the far sideline in double coverage, catchable only by the receiver who hauls it in for a touchdown. Or the pass over the top of coverage right to the hands of a receiver timing his pattern to cut across the middle perfectly.

Those are the things that Robert Morris had to hope Jones would bring to the field. And they are likely the same attributes that Jones wanted to prove he still possessed. There are still miles to cover on his path, but Jones believes he can still be the guy.

"I want to be the guy that everyone looks for to pick up everybody," he said. "I'm not afraid to throw myself out there to take the blame. I just want to be the leader and help make everyone else's job easier."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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