Quarterback spotlight shines on Jones

August 31, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The defining moment in the abbreviated career of Shawn Jones as an NFL free safety came when he lined up to defend against Barry Sanders last year.

Jones had just replaced injured Vencie Glenn for the Minnesota Vikings in a regular-season game against the Detroit Lions. As he stared across the ball at Sanders, one of the NFL's most dangerous backs, Jones felt a sense of dread and misgiving.

"I was hoping he wouldn't get through the linebackers and be one-on-one against me," Jones said yesterday.

If there was any doubt that Jones was miscast as a defensive back, that feeling almost certainly removed it.

By the end of the season, he was committed to becoming a quarterback again, a position he played with distinction at Georgia Tech.

Last spring, he got his wish when he signed with Baltimore's Canadian Football League team.

And this week, he may get the job of his dreams, if only temporarily.

Unless Tracy Ham makes significant progress in recovering from a torn right thigh muscle, Jones probably will start at quarterback Saturday night against the winless Shreveport Pirates in Louisiana.

With Ham and backup John Congemi (bruised ribs) sidelined, Jones took all the snaps in yesterday's practice.

Even so, coach Don Matthews did not concede that Jones will start. He would only call it a possibility and said he won't announce his starter until shortly before kickoff.

But all indications pointed to Jones as the likely starter.

"I'll play it by ear this week," Ham said. "I'd like to be better than I was last week. I'll treat it, and not do anything until it feels better."

Congemi appeared even less likely to play. He moved slowly and in obvious discomfort. "I'll try to throw [today]," he said.

Which leaves the CFLs (5-3) leaning on Jones, 24, who carried Georgia Tech to a UPI coaches poll national title in 1990.

"I'm going to practice like I'm going to start," he said. "Last week, Tracy wasn't going to play, and he played."

Jones has made two appearances this season, one in the regular season. Against the Las Vegas Posse, he replaced Congemi, hurt on a late hit (Congemi had replaced Ham, who suffered from food poisoning). In one series that ended with an interception, Jones was 2-for-4 for 23 yards.

In a preseason game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, he came on in relief of an injured Congemi and pulled out a 45-43 overtime triumph. He completed four of four passes for 69 yards, including a clutch 34-yarder that set up a winning field goal.

Jones, 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds, said that unlike the nervousness he felt against Detroit a year ago, he had no apprehension in either game he played this season.

"Today I felt very comfortable," he said. "I knew what personnel I wanted, I knew what matchups I wanted. That's a learning experience from Day 1 in camp. You don't call plays just to call plays. When I first got to camp, that's what I was doing."

Jones, who was a high school quarterback in Thomasville, Ga., emulating Ham's option offense at Georgia Southern, is ready to put the scramble back in the CFLs offense. Like Ham, Jones said he will run "to get out of trouble."

"A quarterback who can sit in the pocket and throw, and can scramble 20 yards -- that breaks people's backs," he said.

A four-year starter at Tech, Jones rushed for 855 yards. He is the ACC's all-time leader in total offense with 9,296 yards, and set Tech records with 8,441 yards passing and 51 touchdowns.

That he went undrafted in the NFL -- and then was converted to defensive back -- is an age-old theme.

"Racism exists," he said. "People look at the NFL as something other than a business, but the NFL is a business. I don't look at it as my problem, but it affects me."

Jones remembered an incident leading up to the draft that made him wonder.

"One scout got mad at me because I didn't want to work out at running back," he said. "He started yelling at me, and I walked away because I didn't want to make a scene."

NOTES: U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson has set a Sept. 12 hearing on a motion by Jim Speros' attorneys for an expedited trial in the trademark rights case against the NFL. Other motions, including one by the NFL to dismiss the case or have it transferred, also will be addressed. . . . Nose tackle Jearld Baylis (torn biceps) and slotback Shawn Beals have been scratched for Saturday. They'll be replaced by Scott Miller and Reggie Perry. . . . Matthews said that two of the three new defensive linemen in camp -- Mike Kerr, Tommy Fagan and Malcolm Showell -- will go on the active roster this week, which means one other player will be deactivated. . . . The team cut receiver Reggie Brown from the practice roster. . . . Matthews said he's interested in signing former Washington Redskins cornerback Barry Wilburn, cut this week by the Kansas City Chiefs, but had been unable to reach him.

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