Arthur Jones' road to the NFL has been defined by tragedy, injury and a resilient smile.
The Ravens rookie defensive lineman flashes it during practice. It can be seen in the locker room and weight room. Jones even cracks a smile when he talks about 2009, a year that could easily be remembered with tears.
About three weeks after he decided to stay at Syracuse for one more year — despite being labeled a second-round talent — Jones tore a pectoral muscle, which led to a disappointing senior season. A couple of months after that, his dog died when his parents' house burned down in an electrical fire. Then, toward the end of the year, his mother experienced kidney failure and remains on a waiting list for a new one.
Through it all, the Ravens' fifth-round pick has maintained a first-rate attitude.
"You just believe in your faith and keep looking to the sky," said Jones, who will be participating in the Ravens' final passing camp this week. "You can't pout. You can't moan about things. You keep moving on. I'm in a great position right now. I have an opportunity that people dream about."
Some would second-guess the decision to return to college, but Jones is not among them.
The NFL advisory committee gave him a late-second-round grade. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper ranked him among the top 25 prospects in the country. A Ravens scout had him rated among the top 40 college players despite not watching Jones' breakout game against Notre Dame (a career-high 15 tackles, including four behind the line of scrimmage, and one sack).
Instead of declaring for the NFL draft, Jones decided to stay because he wanted to turn the Syracuse program around and lead the Orange to a bowl game. He also wanted to play with his younger brother Chandler.
"Where I come from, money isn't everything," Jones said. "I don't really regret anything. It was a learning experience."
Faith runs deep in Jones' family.
Jones' father and grandfather are pastors at Pentecostal churches in Binghamton, N.Y. Growing up, Jones volunteered at soup kitchens and helped at summer programs for underprivileged boys.
There's a tattoo on his chest with a passage from Philippians 4:13 that reads: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
"I would have been a third-generation pastor," Jones said, "but I went a different route."
Another younger brother took a different route, too. Jonathan, the middle child, is a light-heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter who has a 10-1 record. His nickname is "Bones" Jones.
With many NFL players using MMA to work out these days, Jones has his own personal trainer.
"The conditioning aspect is unbelievable, the boxing and everything," Jones said. "I'm definitely going to come to camp in top shape. I try to keep up. It's pretty intense."
Called a "teddy bear" off the field, Jones is an intense competitor on it. His strength is his explosiveness, which led to 38 1/2 career tackles for losses (most in school history for an interior defensive lineman and third on Syracuse's all-time list).
The surgically repaired pectoral muscle likely limited his effectiveness during his senior season. Jones finished with only 19 tackles, but he was still named to the Big East's first team for the second straight season.
"He's the guy who probably every offensive line coach talked about when they came in to play us," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said after Jones was drafted. "They'd say: 'Hey, we have to make sure we stop him. He's their key player.'"
Jones' senior season ended abruptly. He tore the meniscus in his left knee with three games remaining and underwent surgery in November.
His recovery forced him to decline an invitation to the Senior Bowl and caused him to miss the NFL combine in February. He was able to work out for NFL teams at Syracuse's pro day, but a sore hamstring sidelined him for the 40-yard dash.
Most projections had Jones going anywhere from the second to the fourth round of the NFL draft. The wait, however, was longer than that.
"Yeah, he slid to the fifth round; we were thrilled to get him there," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We were surprised he was still there. We understand why he was still there, but he does have a lot to prove."
Jones said he is healthy once again, and the Ravens agree. "We haven't seen him favor anything," Ravens defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said. "I couldn't tell which knee was injured."
Dealing with injuries is a new experience for Jones, who never had a serious one until his senior year. "You kind of ask God, 'Why, what did I do to deserve this?' It was real humbling," Jones said. "Maybe it was God bringing me back to Earth a little bit."
Jones' determination has already made a mark this offseason. He is making a push for the regular-season roster in a deep defensive line group that has young tackles such as Terrence Cody, Lamar Divens, Brandon McKinney and Kelly Talavou.
"Right now, I'm just trying to learn. It's not about finding a roster spot," Jones said with his usual smile. "I'm pretty sure things are coming along well. Hopefully, this year will be a great year for me."
Buy Ravens Gear
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by The Baltimore Sun. The Sun Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.