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Jiving with Jones

One of the great joys of journalistic endeavors is the access to talk sports with athletes and professionals well-versed in their field with whom you otherwise wouldn’t have that same opportunity. One of those occasions is the annual visit Penn State football play-by-play announcer, Steve Jones, makes to Williamsport to address the local Penn State Booster Club.

Always gracious, Jones took the time to sit and discuss several topics on my mind.

Q: With Saquon Barkley making an early favorable impression in training camp with the New York Giants, are you surprised the Cleveland Browns didn’t take him with the first pick in the NFL draft?

Jones – “I would have taken him because they had two of the first four picks in the draft. I think the quarterbacks available at the top of the draft were pretty much even. In Barkley, they had a chance to take a generational player and then take a quarterback, which would have been no worse than the third choice for them. So they take Baker Mayfield first and Denzel Ward, a cornerback out of Ohio State, fourth. I was surprised that they did that, but then again they are the Cleveland Browns.

“If he stays healthy, he will be a guy very much like Zeke Elliott. I think he will have a similar impact on the Giants as Zeke did with the Cowboys. Since Teke Barber left, the Giants’ Eli Manning has not had a great running back behind him. Barkley has become a really good pass receiver, obviously is a good running back, plus he can block. With Odell Beckham back and now Barkley, Manning must feel like he hit the lottery. He hasn’t had an awful lot of offensive weapons the past few years.”

Q: What were your impressions of Lewisburg’s Brandon Smith during his time at Penn State?

“He came to Penn State at a time when they were really taking on a lot of walk-ons. A lot of people thought very highly of him. Originally, they had him at fullback. When Coach Franklin took over, they switched him to linebacker. The first game he really got into was against Temple at Beaver Stadium. Jack Ham questioned, ‘What do you think? “I responded, ‘Watch him, he knows how to play.’ Temple ran a play up the middle. Brandon discharged the fullback and made the tackle on the ball carrier. Jack looked at me and said, ‘That is a linebacker.’ Jack remained very high on Brandon. His knowledge and instinct were very high. He earned his scholarship and was one of those gems that every program would hang their hat on.”

Q: How will Penn State promote Trace McSorley for the Heisman Trophy?
“I don’t think we are in the era of having to do media campaigns to promote a Heisman candidate. We’ll certainly put out weekly stats and emails on what he has done, but every game is on television so folks can see every game he plays and how he has played for themselves rather than relying on publicity information sent out by a university. Trace is going to have the ball in his hands, and going into the season I think he has to be ranked among the top five guys under consideration.

“What I really like about him, is he is a guy with supreme confidence and no arrogance. Yes, he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder because there were folks who didn’t think he could be a great college quarterback. Penn State gave him the shot to play quarterback, and he has delivered. He is a natural leader.”

Q: What are your thoughts about the college football playoff format?

“I think the playoffs are fine with four teams. It makes it exciting, and it is just enough games. You don’t want to expand so that teams are playing a lot of extra games in December. Coach Franklin has expressed his feelings that the four-team format is best, and I agree with that rationale. Until the power conferences have uniformity of the number of conference games they play, there will always be some inequity involved. The only group who can change this is the National Playoff Committee themselves, but no one wants to change.”

Q: Major League Baseball is concerned about pace of play. Do you have a similar concern for college football?

“Like baseball, many college games exceed three hours. One suggestion I would have to increase pace of play in football is to take out the stoppage of the clock on first downs. That is the big difference between the NFL and college football. That would save several minutes in every game. If they would want to keep a variation of that rule, then perhaps they could stop the clock in those situations the last two minutes of the half or the game. This would still maintain a difference from the NFL as there is no two-minute warning in the college game.”

Q: Head trauma injuries related to football is a growing concern. Do you have any apprehension that fewer young people will play the game out of fear of injury?

“It seems the participation numbers in many sports are down. I want to see young people get involved and play regardless of what sport it may be. For me, I would not let my sons play padded football until they got to junior high school. I’d like to see a lot of flag football — seven-on-seven football where you can have the fun of throwing the football around, intercepting passes, moving the ball downfield and experience how much fun the game happens to be. Football is one of the great team sports out there where you can build camaraderie, understand teamwork and working together.

“Many sports are experimenting with potential rules changes with many of these changes aimed at safety for the participants. It will be interesting to see what these experiments may do to change the rules of the games we are playing now.”

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