Learning process for Jones not over yet

Learning process for Jones not over yet
January 18, 2013, 8:00 am
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Ben Jones took a look down at the six-foot poster that leaned up against the blue-foam padded chair in front of his locker toward the back of the Houston Texans' locker room and smiled.

“It’s from my first start,” he said proudly. “I’m taking it home with me.”

It was the giant poster that hung in the locker room before the Texans hosted the Ravens on Oct. 21 at Reliant Stadium. The words read “ONE FOCUS” in big capital letters like the banner does each week of the regular season. Each week the image changes to show the Texans' helmet matched up against the helmet from the opposing team, this time featuring the black and purple Ravens' design.

Jones said he plans on putting the sign in the TV room of his house.

After being drafted out of Georgia, Jones slowly started to earn more playing time as the season went on before making his first NFL start on Oct. 21. He started the rest of the Texans’ eight regular season games and their two playoff games after that.

“It’s been a learning experience, coming in as a rookie and just trying to get a grasp of the offense and learning how to be a pro,” Jones said. “That’s the biggest change. In college, high school, you had school, you had to come home, get all your school work done. This is your job. This is what I’m focusing on. You have to come in and watch film. You have to do it on your own time. In college, you had your coaching there, hassling you and stuff, so there are some positives and negatives to it but you just have to grow up and be a man.”

Jones was a center in college at Georgia before he was drafted by the Texans in the fourth round. He expected to be a center in the NFL until the Texans made him a guard. So that was another learning experience.

And the learning isn’t over for Jones just yet. As of Monday, he was heading home to Georgia, to finish up earning his degree in Health and Physical Education.

“I wanted to go back and finish it up because you never know when your last snap might be,” he said. “Injuries and stuff like that, so I wanted to have that in the bag so I can always have something to fall back on.”

Jones credited the three veterans on the left side of the offensive line for his progression since joining the NFL. He said Duane Brown, Wade Smith and Chris Myers were instrumental in his progress. But Jones was instrumental in the progression of his backup, Brandon Brooks.

While Antoine Caldwell began the season as the team’s right guard, eventually Jones took that job. And Brooks, another rookie, took over Jones’ old position of rotating in with the starter.

Brooks’ first game action came on Thanksgiving against the Lions and after that, began rotating in more with Jones at right guard. Brooks was actually drafted in the third round, ahead of Jones in the 2012 draft.

“We leaned on each other a lot,” Brooks said of his relationship with Jones. “Whenever we came off the field … Ben usually started, so when he came off the field, I would ask how is he playing in the run? He’d give me tips and when I went back out there if I (saw) any other adjustments, that he didn’t get to see, I told him as well.”

Brooks is the bigger, more physical of the two at 6-5, 346, while Jones is 6-3, 303. As the season went on, head coach Gary Kubiak remained confident in his rotation at both the right guard and right tackle positions and used it throughout the end of the year.

Next season, the line seemingly has tremendous potential. With three Pro Bowlers returning from the left side of the line, a healthy Derek Newton at right tackle and two right guards with an important season of experience under their belt, the unit looks to be pretty solid.

But on Monday, the day after the Texans’ season ended, that bright future wasn’t enough to thwart the disappointment of a season ending early.

“It was definitely a tough one,” Jones said about the loss to the Patriots in the playoffs. “You want to go out there and get a ‘W.” It’s a big game for us. We went out there. We played hard. It’s just a couple plays if we’d have made it could have been a difference. That’s all about winning these games in the NFL. It’s just two or three plays a game you’ve got to make. Whatever team makes those, that’s the one who ends up winning, usually.”

He knows that now. He said he knows a lot of things now that he didn’t know when he entered the league.

And on Monday, he was off to Georgia, back to college, to learn even more. But now he has the experience of an entire NFL season and a giant poster to prove it.