SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame nose guard Jarron Jones, out since first being injured in November 2014, believes he’s ready to contribute again when the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish face No. 7 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
He’s just not sure how much.
“Each practice I’m getting better and better. It’s just getting the rust off, playing with more confidence, being able to push off this knee,” he said. “Because coming off a torn knee ligament, you don’t have mental state that you can trust that knee completely, so it’s a process,”
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior sustained a Lisfranc injury in his left foot on the first play against Louisville last season and missed the final two games, then tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during a preseason practice in August.
The injury originally was described by coach Brian Kelly as season-ending, but Jones began thinking in early November he might be able to return this season when he started squatting weights and quickly got up to 315 pounds.
“Once I starting doing that, it was like, ‘OK, just hard work from there,'” he said.
Kelly said Jones could give the Irish line a boost.
“I think where he’s certainly going to help us is obviously on first and second down, but he can help us on third down. His push inside is undervalued in terms of what he can do internally and his physical push to the pocket,” Kelly said.
Jones believes he could have been the difference in Notre Dame’s two losses, a 24-22 loss at No. 1 Clemson and a 38-36 loss at Stanford.
He feels especially bad about the loss to the Cardinal because he had been planning to dress with the hope of getting in briefly, but didn’t make the trip after being late to practice because he overslept. Jones, who has four blocked kicks in the previous two seasons, thinks the difference would have come when Stanford’s Conrad Ukropina kicked a 45-yard field goal on the last play.
“I blame myself a lot for that game,” he said.
Jones said he had a tough time mentally when he injured his knee and wasn’t sure he wanted to put in the work to recover because he thought he was going to miss the season.
“My trainer kind of had to push me to be back in there,” he said. “But once I got back into the flow of things, I just worked through it.”
Conditioning and consistent play have long been concerns for Jones. When asked how many plays he could be in for against Ohio State, Jones quickly answered 50, saying he’s ready to do whatever the coaches ask.
Then, he took a moment to think.
“Let me stop right there. Let’s say 30,” he said, smiling.
Kelly said the number of downs Jones plays will be a factor. He tied for seventh on the team last season in tackles with 40, but Kelly said his biggest contribution is being disruptive inside, helping others on the line play better.
Jones said he’s not sure how close he is to being the player he was before being injured.
“I feel like I’m doing a good job, but practice is nothing like that game. So we’ll have to see when we get out there,” he said.