June 6, 2019

Jones’ Value Stability In A Sea Of Change

Korey Jones quietly goes about his business with the stealth of a jewel thief.

It’s easy to overlook the 30-year-old linebacker’s value because he’s never been a starter in the CFL, yet he’s on the verge of beginning his fourth season with the Eskimos.

In a league where international players seldom last more than a year or two unless they have a starting job, Jones has appeared in 63 CFL games for three different teams over the past five years, playing on special teams and filling in at middle linebacker or weak-side linebacker (WIL) when the original starter is injured or needs a break.

Only one starter on the Eskimos defence – nine-year veteran nose tackle Almondo Sewell – has been wearing Green and Gold longer than Jones while national fifth-year back-up linebacker/special teams Blair Smith is the only other defensive player to arrive in Edmonton before Jones.

“There’s a lot of new faces in there, man,” Jones said about this year’s Eskimos defence. “It’s home for me, but it feels very foreign.”

Jones, who grew up in Fort Collins, Col., played two games with the BC Lions in 2014, joined the Esks for their 2015 Grey Cup championship season, went to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for a year and then returned to Edmonton for the 2017 and ’18 seasons. Jones did get the opportunity to start 10 games in 2017 for the Eskimos when middle linebacker J.C. Sherritt ruptured his Achilles in the first regular season game of the year.

But it’s not just players who are new to the Eskimos this season. Both the defence (Phillip Lolley) and special teams (A.J. Gass) have new coordinators, which means new systems and terminology to learn.

“I’ve been on a few different ball clubs, so I’ve had to learn a few different defences in my career,” Jones said. “You just roll with the punches, man.

“The current defensive coordinator says it best. ‘You can’t let the circumstances dictate who you are.’ I really believe in that.”

Jones, who played the first half of both Eskimos pre-season games on defence and special teams, said he’s having “a lot of fun” playing on special teams (punt, punt cover, kickoff and kickoff cover).

“Coach A.J. Gass is a phenomenal coach,” Jones said. “He’s got a lot of good things going on scheme-wise. The energy in the room is great.

“And Coach Phil Lolley, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about that man. I’ve worked with him in the past as a position coach in ’15 and ’16 over there in Sask. So I know what kind of man he is and person he is and the coach he is. But to let him have the reins as a coordinator is a beautiful thing. It’s a lot of fun playing in an aggressive defence like his.”

A lot has changed since Jones agreed to extend his contract with the Eskimos on Jan. 25th.

First, star middle linebacker J.C. Sherritt retired.

“It wasn’t a surprise to me, personally, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept it,” Jones said. “He’s not only one of my best and dearest friends, but he’s a fantastic leader in the locker room. His energy and his personality picks people up and brings them along … so to not have him around anymore every day in person like that was kind of tough.

“But it is what it is, and he’s doing a fantastic job down the road (as the linebackers coach with the Calgary Stampeders), and he’s happy, so I’m happy for him.”

On the opening day of free agency, the Eskimos signed three linebackers – middle linebacker Larry Dean and strong-side linebacker (SAM) Don Unamba from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and weak-side linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“I don’t know if my feet are quite that sweet to be playing SAM,” Jones said about the hybrid position that is more defensive back than a linebacker.

But the other two highly touted recruits – Dean and Santos-Knox – are just the latest players to block Jones’ path to a starting job that he’s never really had unless a starter was injured.

“That’s what the organization decided to do,” Jones said with a shrug. “I’ll do whatever the club needs me to do.”