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Bill Lazor: Tailback Perry Jones 'really does everything right'

Sophomore Perry Jones likely will line up as Virginia’s starting tailback Saturday against Richmond, but running the ball is merely one of the ways in which Jones is capable of helping the Cavaliers on the field. He’ll also play on several special teams units. Coach Mike London said Jones even has served at times in practice as a long-snapper.

Heck, if the coaches would let him, Jones would play defense, as well. There aren’t too many two-way players in college football these days, but Jones wouldn’t mind giving it a shot.

“I joke with the coaches sometimes, like, you know, ‘I still think this is just like high school football, so if you need me to play defense at any time, I'm always ready,’” Jones said. “I do miss that part of the game.”

Once upon a time, Jones played safety and linebacker at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va., where finished his prep career as the school’s all-time leading tackler. When Virginia recruited him, Jones said, the Cavaliers only had film of his defensive exploits because he didn’t start playing on the offensive side of the ball until his senior season.

When Jones arrived on campus in Charlottesville last year, former Coach Al Groh made him choose: Offense or defense. Jones chose to be a running back, and only now is that decision starting to pay dividends. Jones made nine carries for nine yards and caught one pass for 38 yards in 2009.

But he’s sat atop the depth chart at tailback since the end of spring practice, which means he’s likely to receive the ball much more frequently this fall. Yes, Jones is short for a football player. Listed at 5-foot-8, he won’t intimidate many opponents with his size. But his linemen say they love blocking for him, and his quarterback raves about his skills. His coaches seem to think highly of him, too.

“The first thing about Perry is that he really does everything right,” Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor said. “What he's proven to us is that it's not only how he carries out his assignments on the field, but the kind of person he is. He's very reliable, dependable. He really exemplifies what Coach London is trying to build here as a program. Then when you put that together with his explosiveness, with his vision and his ability to make plays in space, he's been steady and constantly rising.”

There were times during Jones’s freshman campaign when his reputation was not so sterling, specifically in the classroom. Jones said he struggled initially with the transition to college academics.

“I didn't prepare myself,” Jones said. “I struggled at first, but once I got the hang of things, I didn't want to have the possibility of the school deciding to suspend me for a year, so I just changed my whole motive. I worked a lot harder in the classroom, and I did much better in the second semester.”

London said Jones earned “over a 3.0 GPA” over the spring semester and in his summer school courses.

These days, the most pressing hurdle Jones has to clear lies on the field, where the Cavaliers have not had much in the way of a consistent rushing attack in recent seasons. Jones and fifth-year senior Raynard Horne will get first crack at solidifying themselves as the team’s primary ball-carriers.

Despite his status as one of the team’s go-to tailbacks, Jones insisted on remaining an influential special teams presence. Although coaches dialed back the number of special teams units on which Jones plays, he will remain, for the time being, a member of the kickoff and punt return squads.

“He doesn't say boo, and he just goes to work,” London said. “So we're glad to have him.”

By Steve Yanda  |  September 2, 2010; 7:50 AM ET
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