When Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis is asked to describe defensive tackle James Jones, Lewis tries to refrain from the usual coach's cliches, but it becomes too hard.
"James Jones is a cliche," said Lewis. "He is everything you want mentally and physically. He sets a practice tone and has outstanding athletic ability. You can't ask for anything more. He may not be in the upper echelon in physical talent, but you can't go wrong with a team full of James Joneses. You want your children to grow up and be like him."
Jones, in his eighth season, is playing perhaps his best football. His outstanding play often gets lost among the publicity received by defensive standouts Michael McCrary, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Rod Woodson, but his experience and influence are invaluable.
Jones is tied with Woodson for fifth on the team in tackles with 54. He is third on the team in sacks with 5 1/2 , one behind Boulware and seven behind McCrary. Need a big play? Watch Jones run down Tennessee running back Eddie George on a sweep. He plays almost every down, even with a bruised knee that he doesn't talk about publicly.
But what separates Jones from a lot of other players is his generosity. Maybe no other Ravens player gives as much back to the Baltimore community. He is involved in Santa Claus Anonymous functions. He recently led a Bible study for 800 inner-city kids at a downtown Baltimore hotel. He donated $10,000 recently to a food drive. Some turkeys that were eaten yesterday by needy families were given by Jones through the Bea Gaddy Family Centers.
Jones is a born-again Christian who was baptized at 8, but recommitted his life in 1994.
"When I was in high school, I didn't go to church regularly," said Jones. "I really wasn't dedicated, but Anthony Pleasant [former Ravens and Cleveland teammate] got me going to Bible study. As a disciple of Christ, we're supposed to help others. It's important that we give back. There will come a time when I have to stand before God, and I have to be accountable."
Jones said his faith aids him in being a leader. When the Ravens were embarrassed by Jacksonville in a 45-19 loss, it was Jones who helped organize weekly team meetings. On the field, he is the quarterback of the defensive line. Jones even knows the linebackers' assignments.
There is no doubt about his unselfishness. He shares taking on blocks with defensive tackle Tony Siragusa so either Siragusa or Lewis can make tackles. Jones' play is one of the main reasons the Ravens have one of the best run defenses in the league.
"Because of Christianity, you become a natural leader," said Jones. "It makes you mature, and I use my faith in my approach to the game."
Said Marvin Lewis: "He has a great influence on our ballclub. He gives us direction up front and is pretty much the backbone of our defense. I thought last year he had a pretty good season, but this year he is having a better one."
Jones finished the 1997 season fifth on the team in tackles with 75. Critics doubted that he would duplicate the performance this season because of his age (29) and his size (6 feet 2 and 290 pounds), which is small compared with other behemoths at his position.
But Jones is a technician who also is relentless.
"The Lord has given me the ability to play football, but I know it's not going to last forever," said Jones. "It's like life. There will come a time when it will pass away. What I do is enjoy every moment of the game, from preparation to practice, and then use the best of my God-given ability.
"There are a lot of guys who aren't prototypes but make plays. Jerry Ball [of the Vikings] isn't the prototype. There are some people who say Ray Lewis isn't the prototype at linebacker, but he makes plays. NFL guys get hung up on these physical standards, but it's what is in a guy's heart and how he works that makes a player. A lot of the prototypes can't play a lick."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Indianapolis Colts
Site: Ravens stadium
When: Sunday, 1: 01 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Tickets: Sold out
Line: Ravens by 5 1/2
Pub Date: 11/27/98