Jamarco Jones was playing a position he’d never played before. Not in the NFL. Not at Ohio State. Not in high school on the south side of Chicago, Pee Wee, never.
And his task last week when pressed into emergency duty against the Los Angeles Rams: Block the best defensive tackle on the planet.
What did All-Pro, All-World Aaron Donald say across the line to him while probably looking forward to schooling to the new Seahawks right guard who entered in the first half after starter D.J. Fluker injured his hamstring?
“He just stares at you,” Jones said.
Now all eyes are on Jones.
Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice last year—as a left tackle—largely stymied Donald in a 30-29 victory Oct. 3 that sent the Seahawks (4-1) off to their best five-game start since their Super Bowl-championship season of 2013.
“I was shocked that it was so smooth for him to move to the right side and play guard when there’s no background of it other than in practice,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Jones’ debut at guard.
“He moved his feet well. He played strong. Assignment-wise, he was solid. I think he got out of the game with no pressures. He might have been the only guy up front that did that.
“At the time, Fluker unable to go, we’re fortunate that he stepped up like he did.”
Jones was so good, it’s becoming increasingly likely he will make his first NFL start on Sunday at Cleveland—at the position where he just started practicing a couple of weeks ago.
Carroll said before Wednesday’s practice Fluker “can’t practice right now.” The coach made it sound as if the hamstring hasn’t gotten much better in the six days since the massive veteran injured it. This is the third consecutive season Fluker has been injured; the 28-year-old’s injury history is why the Seahawks drafted guard Phil Haynes in the fourth round this spring.
Haynes was impressing this summer before he needed surgery for a sports hernia. He went on the physically-unable-to-perform list to begin the season. Haynes is not eligible to come off the PUP list until next week.
Ethan Pocic, a second-round pick in 2017, is Seattle’s other back-up guard. He’s missed the last two games with a back injury and was limited in practice Wednesday.
Even if Pocic were fully healthy, he might be watching Jones play in Cleveland, anyway.
Seahawks coaches are wowed by the 23-year-old Jones’ FBI credentials.
“He has great what we call FBI: football intelligence,” Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari said.
“He has just a great feel for the game and just awareness. He’s able to kind of slow the game down, per se. And he does a nice job with his technique. He does a nice job with his communicating.”
It’s ironic Solari mentions Jones is good at slowing the game down.
Jones noticed right away against the Rams the speed of playing inside at guard in tighter quarters versus outside at tackle.
“Things just happen quicker,” he said. “At tackle, there is more space between you and the defensive end, and it’s kind of just more of patient game, where at guard everything happens really quickly. So you’ve got to be to react even more quickly.”
This is Jones’ third position in his year plus five games in the NFL with Seattle. He was a left tackle coming out of Ohio State. He was recruited out of Chicago to OSU by assistant coach Mike Vrabel, before Vrabel left the Buckeyes for the NFL; Vrabel is now in his second year as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
Jones was initially backing up Duane Brown at left tackle last preseason. By the first days of August, Jones had impressed Carroll and Solari so much he was the first-string right tackle over penalty-prone Germain Ifedi for some practices as a rookie in his first training camp in 2018.
“He had made really good impressions because he’s really smart and put things up really quickly,” Carroll said. “Mike Solari was talking about him a lot, that he seems like a real natural player, stuff makes sense to him. That kind of thing. He got off to a really good positive impression that he made. He just wasn’t able to be around long enough.”
In the first preseason game of 2018, against Indianapolis, Jones sustained a high-ankle sprain.
And not just any high-ankle sprain. He needed surgery. He went on injured reserve and missed his entire rookie season.
Jones said it wasn’t a situation where he may have been able to return later in the season but couldn’t because he was on IR.
“Nah,” he said. “I didn’t start running again until January.”
He’s flying now.
Carroll ultra-values performance in games, something Pocic has been inconsistent at in his three seasons with Seattle. Plus, if Pocic, who has also backed up at center and tackle for the Seahawks, had proven himself to coaches they wouldn’t have drafted Haynes in April, in the fourth round out of Wake Forest.
Another factor in Jones’ favor to start over Pocic, if Fluker can’t in Cleveland Sunday: Carroll particularly appreciates Jones doing what he’s told, changing positions in the middle of a season then performing so well in an emergency situation—especially against Donald. Quarterback Russell Wilson calls Donald the best defensive player he’s ever faced.
“He’s a left tackle by his background. So, going over to the other side is enough of an issue in itself,” Carroll said of Jones’ recent switch.
“It’s a really first-class come-through for us that he went over there and played so admirably under the circumstances and the guys he was playing against felt rushed. ...I think it’s a remarkably good showing for him and for us going forward. As for our depth and all of that, he’s healthy and ready to go. We have a kid chomping at the bit to be part of it. Our coaches have always trusted him from the start...
“You almost have to have some special savvy and qualities to be able to pull it off like he did.”