August 14, 2009

More confident Jones ready for starting job

When Nebraska offensive tackle Marcel Jones first heard that friend and fellow offensive lineman Jaivorio Burkes would not be with the team this season, his initial thoughts went out to Burkes' well being.

His ensuing thought, however, went towards the opportunity that had just opened its doors for him.

With Burkes' departure, Jones entered fall camp as the clear No. 1 right tackle on the Huskers' depth chart. Suddenly, there was no real competition, as the rest of NU's tackles behind him have yet to even play in a single game.

So while the circumstances behind locking down a starting job weren't exactly ideal, Jones is ready to take full advantage of the opportunity.

"It's always tough to see one of your teammates, especially another offensive lineman, go down like that," Jones said. "I still talk to him, still keep in touch with him. He's doing all right. He's keeping his head on straight, and he'll be back pretty soon.

"I just look at it my job to help bring back the tradition of the Nebraska offensive line. I'm just going to do my best every day, and I'm ready for the challenge."

The challenge won't exactly be completely new to Jones, as he played in all 13 games last season, including a start against Western Michigan in place of an injured Lydon Murtha. He also essentially played the entire game against Kansas State when both Murtha and Burkes were sidelined.

He's never entered the season as a clear starter, but Jones's experience last season has given him the confidence that he'll be up to the task.

"When they said it was time for me to step up, I was like, 'OK, I can do that. I'm already ready,'" Jones said. "The jitters are all out. I got them out last year."

Jones's confidence has gone even further through the first week of fall camp. Senior center Jacob Hickman said he's noticed new mean streak added to Jones's game, as the normally mild-mannered Jones has started standing up to sometimes overly-aggressive defensive linemen.

"I think Marcel has matured quite a bit since last season," Hickman said. "In the spring, he came a long way. Marcel's got great technique and everything, it's just he needed to get kind of a little bit of a change in his demeanor - a little bit more anger and violence to his game.

"He's such a nice guy, but you kind of have to be a little angry on the line sometimes. You're starting to see sparks from him there. He's getting into it with the d-line a little bit, and that's a big step for him. That's something we hadn't seen last year. Since he's really assumed the role this summer, he's really come a lot further, and you can see it in camp."

He may only be a sophomore, but it appears Jones is taking on the mindset of seasoned veteran as he heads into his first season as the No. 1 right tackle. There's really not much to get nervous about anymore in his mind, as he's already been there and done that before.

"There's always a little pressure, but it helped ease the tension a little bit just knowing that I've already been here, I've already done this," Jones said. "I've already played in games. I've already played in front of 85,000 fans. I've already got all of that under my belt, so just relax and take it as it comes."

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