Just a few days before this year’s NFL draft, I had the pleasure of speaking with University of Georgia center Ben Jones, and to find out more about how his weeks and days leading up to the NFL draft had been going.
Jones was a four-year starter at Georgia, and ranks third all-time among UGA offensive linemen in starts with 49. He was named to multiple all-conference teams while at Georgia, and was named to the UGA “Team of the Decade”. He attended Bibb County High School (Al), and was coached by Darryl Burns. His pre-college honors include being named to the SuperPrep All-Dixie Team, the PrepStar All-Southeast Region, the 2007 Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 5A First Team, and he was the number 7 center in the 2008 Rivals.com ratings.
I got to ask Ben about his pre-draft jitters, and what his hopes were for the future.
MC: So Ben, are you getting excited about the draft coming up in a couple of days?
BJ: I am, it’s been a long process. I’m ready for it to just get here and get over with, and just get back to playing football again.
MC: What were things like at the NFL combine? Was it very intense?
BJ: It was a good experience. There was a lot of pressure. You are having a lot of meetings with different coaches. You have to get up really early every day, and you aren’t getting a lot of rest at night because you are constantly going from like 5am until 11 or 12 at night. I think the Senior Bowl really prepared me well for that, getting to meet the coaches early and get to know them, I wasn’t as nervous at the combine.
MC: You mentioned the Senior Bowl. What was your overall Senior Bowl experience like, and what did you learn the most from the NFL staff you were able to work with?
BJ: It was a great experience. You actually get to work with an NFL playbook and learn their system. You get to learn their calls, watch tape with them and see what they are looking for. It was a great learning experience, and it made me want to get to the NFL that much faster.
MC: Let’s talk about Georgia’s rivals. You had a very successful time in your four years at Georgia. In looking at the schedule each year, who was the one team that you told yourself that you did not want to lose to
BJ: Definitely Georgia Tech. You don’t want to lose to your in-state rival. I learned that in my freshman year. That was the first year that Tech had beaten us in about seven years, and we said we weren’t going to let that happen again, so we went and won the next three years. It’s a long year to wait when you lose to your rival and you want to beat them again.
MC: Anybody else?
BJ: Yeah, you definitely want to beat Florida and Auburn. Those are two games that you don’t want to lose. Unfortunately we only beat Florida one time while I was there. I’m glad I got to go out with knowing what the feeling was to beat Florida.
MC: Looking ahead to Georgia’s 2012 year, what do you see happening for that team? Do you see any big weaknesses?
BJ: Not at all. They have a really solid team and a lot of talent…especially on defense. They are really loaded with all the returning starters. That’s a big part of SEC football, having that dominant defense. And they have a lot of weapons on offense to help balance that out.
MC: Now looking at the draft, if a team was looking at you and had an interest, would you be comfortable playing either guard or center?
BJ: Absolutely, I know if a team drafts me I’m going to have to be able to play all three interior positions, because they only dress seven offensive linemen in a game, and you have to be pretty versatile to make that seven. If you want to stay in the league a while, you have to be able to play a lot of different positions.
MC: So what have NFL teams told you so far about your strengths and weaknesses?
BJ: I’ve been told that I have a natural ability in making line calls and leading the team on the field. They’ve said that some of my weaknesses are getting to that second level faster, and staying on my feet.
MC: So with that commentary in mind, what center do you most model your game after?
BJ: I try to get bits and pieces from everybody. I just love watching the game. But I’d say that Jeff Saturday is one of my biggest role models, just watching him play for so long and at such a high level. Then I like some of the younger guys like [Nick] Mangold and [Mike] Pouncy, guys who are great players and who are making the Pro Bowl every year.
MC: So where will you be watching the draft?
BJ: I’ll be at home in Bibb County, Alabama, at my aunt’s house because I don’t have cell phone service at my own house in Bibb County.
MC: Wow, now that’s small town. OK, last question for you. If you had your choice of any coach – living or dead, active or retired – what coach would you have picked to take you through your college career?
BJ: Definitely coach [Mark] Richt. He was one of the main reasons I came to Georgia. He puts his faith first, and that means a lot to me. Just seeing him live that life every day, and the lessons he taught me helped make me the man I am today. He has a process instilled at Georgia in how to make you successful and how to make you a man, and I give him all the credit for that. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach or a better father figure than him.
Ben is graduating from Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in Health and Physical Education. The Houston Texans took Jones in the fourth round of the NFL draft with the 99th overall pick. We wish Ben the best of luck in his NFL career.