Thursday, September 30, 2021

Besides "The Tackle" What Else Was Mike Jones About?

By John Turney 

Mike Jones, the St. Louis Rams, outside linebacker will always have a place in NFL History—you cannot tell the history of the NFL without him. But we do not suggest he's a Hall of Famer, whoever started that saying in relation to Hall of Fame candidates should explain that concept a bit further. 

It's really no standard for the Hall of Fame because there are many, many players, coaches, and contributors who are integral parts of NFL History but are not Hall of Fame candidates. Regardless, Mike Jones is an interesting NFL player win a very fine career and one who will always be a Rams fan favorite because of "The Tackle" that preserved the Rams win in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Jones was a 6-foot-1, 220 pounds imposing running back in High School and was one of the best players in the state of Missouri, earning All-State honors his senior season. On the defensive side of the ball, he was an excellent linebacker, recording 10 interceptions his senior year. He was highly recruited by colleges but chose to stay in-state and went to the University of Missouri. 

Jones was a very good fullback Mizzou leaving with 1,390 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing plus 65 career receptions for 686 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Also, he set the school record for most yards in a quarter, 104, and broke the all-time mark for receptions for a running back in a season (41) and in a career (72). He was a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award.

Despite all that, he was ignored in the 1991 NFL Draft despite being 6-1, and now 230 pounds with 4.6 speed. The Raiders signed him as an undrafted free agent and told him he was going to be a linebacker for them and Jones was a bit confused since he'd not played linebacker since high school.

However one of his college coaches had suggested to the Raiders that linebacker might be a position he could play in the NFL. That coach, Mike Ward, thought it might be something intriguing to Al Davis since Davis had a proclivity to change players' positions from time to time and knew that Jones has high school experience at the position. 

Surprised and grateful, Jones signed with the Silver and Black. 

As a rookie in 1991 and in 1992, Jones was excellent on special teams, and in between those two seasons he was loaned to the Sacramento Surge of the World League of American Football as an 'enhancement" player. He was the starting middle linebacker for them and led the team with 51 tackles and three sacks and the club won World Bowl II.
The 1992 Surge was an interesting team in a lot of ways. The general manager was Jack Youngblood and as teammates, Jones had Michael Sinclair who led the NFL in sacks in 1998, Bill Goldberg the famous wrestler, George Bethune who was a decent pass rusher in Frtiz Shumur's 5-linebacker nickel in the late 1980s with the Rams. Other teammates were Louis Riddick who was one of the defensive backs, now Riddick is doing commentary on Monday Night Football after a good NFL career as a player and in scouting. David Archer was the quarterback and he had NFL experience and the kicker was Cary Blanchard who went on to have a fine NFL career.

The punter, John Nies, had a brother, Eric, who starred on MTV's "Real World" series. Lee Saltz was a backup quarterback who had been a QB/gunner in the preseason for the 1987 Lions and later was a backup to Sean Salisbury in the CFL. 

Warning:  The next couple of paragraphs are NSFW—

In addition, there was a player, who will remain nameless, that was gifted in the category of male anatomy. On one occasion when the club was in London for a game against the Monarchs a small group of players went out looking for female companionship and came across a few young women offering such services.

The "gifted" player made arrangements and went into an ally while the other players waited to make sure no bobbies came by—no one wanted trouble with London police. So, as the story goes, after a couple of moments they hear the working girl, in an Eliza Doolittle-Cockney accent, "What am I supposed to do with that thing, Luv?" 

Loud cackles were heard from the teammates who were within earshot of the comment. 

Back to safe for work prose—

Jones later said in an interview that a season playing linebacker with the Surge readied him to play linebacker in the NFL but it was still another season of special teams for him in 1992.

In his third year, he earned a spot in the Raiders nickel package. Jim Haslett, the Raiders defensive coordinator, said, "We use him on about one-third of our plays and he grades out high. I am pleased with the progress he's made in the NFL".
In 1995 he earned the weak-side linebacker position in the Raiders defense. He'd proven that he was ready to play full-time, in the base as well as the sub packages. In two seasons he averaged just under 100 tackles per season (led the team both seasons) and graded well.

As the weakside linebacker, he'd play on the opposite side of the tight end, but in nickel, he'd play over the tight end. He'd do that when the Raiders ran their version of the 46 defense, he'd play just inside the tight end like Wilber Marshall did back in the halcyon days of the Bears 46 defense.


Above are a few clips of Jones, one covering a tight end, one taking on a guard 
and making a tackle and also running free to make a strong tackle

He performed well enough to catch the eye of the Rams brass who signed him to a four-year $6 million deal to replace Carlos Jenkins who'd been their left linebacker for a couple of years.

With the Rams Jones played the left linebacker, not the "weak" or even "strong" side. In 1995 and 1996 the Rams flopped their linebackers like the Raiders did with one playing on the tight end side and the other away but with the new regime and Bud Carson as the defensive coordinator the linebackers were left- and right. 
Jones covering the "hole" in a Tampa-2 call

On the right side, opposite Jones, was Roman Phifer and when Rams went to nickel they were the two linebackers on the field. Once again Jones was very noticeable on the field with the ability to play the run, cover, and now, given the opportunity to blitz effectively. In those two seasons, Jones averaged 86 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 9 passes defensed, and 1.5 picks (leading team in tackles in 1997).
The Rams offenses in 1998 and 99 were pretty dreadful but the defenses had talent and played hard and Jones was acknowledged as a leader and the hardest practice player on the squad being singled out by coaches for those intangibles. The pass defenses allowed just 53% completion percentages and a defensive passer rating below the league averages. They also had a good pass rush. They had the makings of a very good defense.

Then came 1999 which was a quantum leap for the Rams. The offense, now with Kurt Warner (taking over for injured Trent Green) and Marshal Faulk, a healthy Issac Bruce, and rookie Torry Holt was a juggernaut. 

And with the talent they already had and now an offense that could get some leads, the defense teed off. They tied for the NFL lead in sacks, led the NFL in rushing defense, and were fourth in fewest points allowed and again near the top in defensive passer rating. They also scored eight defensive touchdowns—three by Mike Jones.

Jones picked off four passes and took two to the house, he recovered two fumbles and took one of them to the endzone. Those three defensive touchdowns tied a Rams record (since broken) held by Monte Jackson and Rod Perry. 

Though ones didn't make the Pro Bowl after the 1999 season he was an alternate and made Rick Gosselin's Dallas Morning News All-Pro team. Gosselin is a Hall of Fame voter and in the writer's wing of the Hall of Fame and is noted for making astute picks for his All-Pro teams like Paul Zimmerman and Gordon Forbes were.

Jones also made the All-Joe team chosen by USA Today's Larry Weisman and the "Allmost All-Pro Team" by Vinny DiTrani of the Bergen Record. These two teams are composed of players who didn't make any major all-pro team or Pro Bowl but deserved consideration because they had seasons worthy of being honored but may have been beaten out.

In the 1999 NFL Playoffs Jones nearly scored another defensive touchdown but dropped the potential pick-six against the Vikings but he totaled six tackles and one stuff in that game. He had another six tackles versus the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game and then in the Super Bowl he also had six tackles, one being "The Tackle".

With the Rams leading by seven and the defensive line exhausted the Titans had one last play to try and tie the game (if they hit the PAT). So they ran a play that would isolate Kevin Dyson on Jones. The play worked how the Titans wanted, Dyson was open and appeared to have a path to the end zone, but Jones "shot his gun" (a Jon Gruden term for not hesitating) and made the tackle holding Dyson a yard short of the goalline and becoming part of NFL lore.

The Rams were in Cover-7. The Titans were in a 2x2 formation and had tight end Frank Wycheck inside of Dyson. Dyan ran what the Rams called "IG" motion moving inside Wycheck, then back out. Seeing that Jones stayed put the Titans knew it was zone defense on that side. Wycheck ran to the corner with Dexter McCleon on him and strong safety Billy Jenkins playing the deep 1/2—helping McCleon on the vertical route. However, for a short moment, Jones stayed on Wycheck. 

On the opposite Dre Bly and Todd Lyght (in the slot) had the receivers man to man with Keith Lyle taking the deep 1/2 but also looking for any crosser from the Dyson/Whychek side. The running back was London Fletcher's responsibility.

Dyson started outside and tried to use Wycheck's route to rub Jones a bit and he turned back towards the post, but as we mentioned Jones stepped with Dyson for a short bit but when Wycheck tried to screen Jones he went "under" that rather than "over" and drove to Dyson and made a perfect tackle. Anything less would have been a touchdown for the Titans. 
A couple of months later Dyson told Jones that the Tians knew what coverage the Rams would be in and that he felt that he would be able to beat Jones on the quick post route. Jones has said many times that he knew the route and that he was with Wycheck for that split second but had his eyes on Dyson the entire time and that he thought he had a shot for a hard shot on Dyson stating that, "I thought I was going to kill him".

However, he quickly realized that Dyson's quickness and a perfect throw by McNair put him in a position to think he better just make a tackle rather than go for a hard hit. He got to Dyson, grabbed the right hip/upper thigh area and then got a great grip on the left knee and Dyson could do nothing to move forward, all he could do is fall because Jones had both his legs. Dyson was down on the one.

Game over. And a legend was born.

However, it didn't last long.

In 2000 the Rams defense simply fell apart. It couldn't stop anyone. Their offense, in some ways, was better than in 1999 but the defense cost them a lot of games and in the playoff game versus the Saints they got behind 31-7, and then the defense got a couple of stops and the special teams converted an onside kick and the offense mounted a comeback but at the end Az-Zahir Akeem muffed a punt and it was all over with the Saints winning 31-28. 

Head coach Mike Martz blew up the defense after the season, bringing in Lovie Smith to install the Tampa-2 scheme, and the Rams brain trust drafted players they felt fit the scheme and also players that were also younger. The Rams jettisoned D'Marco Farr, Kevin Carter, Todd Lyght, Devin Bush, Keith Lyle, Ray Agnew, and also Jones—all starters in 2000 and most were stars in 1999. 

Jones said the Rams didn't match a contract the Steelers offered but he said he might have considered taking less to stay in St. Louis where he had ties. 

Mike Martz told the media that Jones was more on a Sam 'backer, an on-the-line linebacker, which was odd since he was more of an off-the-ball linebacker in our view, though in base with the Rams he was over the tight end, but for him to be labeled as only that that wasn't accurate since Jones was really a linebacker who could do it all, not the classic 4-3 on-the-line Sam like maybe a Lewis Bush or later two-down Sams like Ryan Nece, Brady Poppinga, or Hunter Hillenmeyer plus others of that ilk. 

Jones wasn't that guy. He was a linebacker who, sure, could play over a tight end, but also on the weak side/ stacked like he did in Oakland, or even inside in nickel or dime but he was far from a one-trick pony. 

Nonetheless, the Rams drafted Tommy Polly (who had some good traits) and signed Mark Fields (who lasted one year in the Lou) and Jones was a Steeler with a new three-year $2.5 million contract.
The Steelers planned to play Jones at weak inside linebacker but a rookie named Kendrell Bell came in and won the position and became a dominant player right away (82 tackles 9 sacks) and was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was voted to a Pro Bowl. Jones ended up playing mostly in nickel situations in 2001 but late in the season his snap count went up and he really made contributions in December and in the playoffs.

 In the 2001 AFC Playoff game with the Steelers Jones got a sack and deflected a pass

The Steelers cut him in June of 2002  and the Raiders signed him a couple of weeks later for a reported one-year deal for $775, 000—less than he was used to but a far cry from the $30,000 or so he was making with Sacramento in 1992. Jones was hurt early in the year then played a few games with the Raiders and was cut mid-season. The Steelers signed him a couple of weeks later as insurance when starting linebacker James Farrior went down. 

Jones got his chance to play in Week 11 when Farrior's replacement, John Fiala, went down and he had to play the second half of a game in a week where he had very few practice reps. He also had the responsibility to call the third-down signals for the defense and a few times he mixed up Raider terminology with Steeler verbiage. "He was thrown in there full-blast", said Bill Cowher. Jones recovered a key fumble in the Steeler win for good measure.

He started the final game of the week in Week 17 when the Steelers, already having sealed the division title, rested Farrior who had an ailing shoulder and in filling in for him Jones made eight tackles. 

After the season Jones was a free agent and hoped to sign with someone in 2003 but no offer came and Jones's pro football saga was over. 

Jones got into coaching after his playing days and spend six years at Hazelwood East High School in Missouri and won a state championship in 2008. After that, he took the Lincoln University head coaching job for five and a half seasons.

Jones had his share of accolades being voted into the University of Missouri Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. Additionally, he was a three-time winner of the Rams Carl Ekern Spirit of the Game Award (1997-99) and was awarded the Rams Ed Block Courage Award in 1998 and the aforementioned 1999 honors.

Thus, Mike Jones was more than "The Tackle". He was a good player, a good coach, and a good man. 

2 comments:

  1. No doubt a great tackle by Jones, with Dyson stopping his own leg drive as well but had McNair hit him in stride rather than slightly late, I believe an easy TD. Slant type passes have to lead the receiver but the receiver has to be aggressive going after the ball as well.

    WR Lockette for Seattle had the same opportunity against NE in the 2014/15 SB but didnt go after Wilson's high pass aggressive enough in my view and allowed NE DB Butler a chance to intercept the pass and become a SB hero ...

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    1. Don't think so, Aikan alwasy saying that stuff in the middle had to be on the body. The pass was perfect. Jones made a perfect play, anything less and it is a touchdown.

      Watch the film---position ofthe ball could not be much better.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2mLric-8oc

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