Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones has been in the NFL for two years, but his toughest battles were always at home around the dinner table or in another part of the house.
Jones was raised in Endicott, N.Y., with his two younger brothers Jon and Chandler. Jon "Bones" Jones is the UFC light-heavyweight champion, and Chandler, a defensive end, was a first-round pick of the New England Patriots nearly two months ago.
Food fights were like Ali versus Frazier.
"My dad [Arthur Jr.] was a wrestler, so growing up, we always tore up our house," Arthur Jones said. "It was really competitive and physical, and we fought over everything from the last piece of chicken or cookie, or whether to leave the light switch up or not. Even now, at 50-something, my dad still wrestles and he thinks he can take us."
Who is the toughest?
"My mom [Camille]," he said, laughing. "She is the meanest one. I heard stories about her that when she was young, she would always beat up the bully. If someone was in a corner and needed help, she was always the one to help them out."
The family apparently had another get-together during the offseason, and it's made a remarkable difference in Jones. Two years ago, he was bottom-heavy with hips, thighs and legs much larger than the top half of his body.
He resembled one of those old Weebles toys. You remember the jingle, "They weeble and they wobble, but they don't fall down."
Well, he's not that way anymore.
He's lost about 18 pounds during the past two seasons, and this offseason trained with his brothers in New Mexico.
But this wasn't the standard NFL conditioning stuff. He took some parts from the regimens of teammates and linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, and mixed them in with the training of his brother Jon.
"I didn't go home — I went straight to Albuquerque," Jones said. "My body was a lot more rested than the starters', so I started running sand dunes two or three days after the season. My brother worked out three times a day having a boxing session, jujitsu and a lifting or swimming session. Some days I would spar with him, but I basically stuck with wrestling because I wrestled in high school.
"I did a lot of hands work, and it's pretty similar to football as far as pass rushing, cutting guys off and getting angles."
The Ravens are hoping Jones becomes a starting end this season and replaces Cory Redding, who joined the Indianapolis Colts via free agency early in the offseason. Last year, Jones saw action in 14 games and finished with 18 tackles.
But that was before the transformation was complete. During organized team activities and mandatory minicamp last week, Jones took most of the repetitions with the first team. He showed endless pursuit running down ball carriers to the opposite side of the field.
Now, if he gets better at pass rushing, he could become a complete player. Until then, he is one of several young players with great potential who need to step up this season.
"Art has played well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Art is not a surprise to me. He has done well. He can play both spots. He is going to play the defensive end spot and he is competing for the starting job there, and he is also going to play the 3-technique spot, which he would probably be the third man in that rotation. Versatile is huge. So he is going to play a lot of football regardless of where it ends up shaking out for the most part."
That's fine with Jones.
He is already looking forward to this year's game with the visiting Patriots and younger brother Chandler. They might get to face each other if both are on special teams.
It could be another food fight.
"It's a blessing, but I don't think it has hit me yet," Jones said. "When I line up against him and see him on the other side, it's going to be like, 'Wow, this kid is in the league, too.' It's a testament to hard work. I don't know if I will get a chance to go against him except on special teams, and if I do, I will knock him on his butt a few times."
Jones is more concerned with starting. Last year, he learned to study tape from Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and he still talks to Redding at least once a week.
"He's doing a lot of good things; I think he's getting used to having a lot of space," Ngata said.
Added Jones: "I feel good, really good and ready for whatever role they want me to play. Mentally and physically I'm stronger than ever, and each year I have gained more confidence. I feel good about going into this season and I want to help this team win a championship, and that means doing whatever it takes. I just want to get a ring on my finger."
If he does, Jones can point back to his childhood days. His father was a Pentecostal pastor and very strict. His father didn't believe in staying out late or partying. Jones was an usher and drummer in church as well as a member of Sunday school and choir.
"You either tended to cows or played sports — there wasn't much else," said Jones, laughing.
Jones did learn how to fish, which he does once a week with teammate and offensive tackle Jah Reid, and he also does a lot of target shooting.
Of course, Jones learned how to fight, mostly with his brothers. Even today, he still says he can beat Jon.
"I have never lost to him, never," said Jones, smiling. "It's something I instilled him as the older brother, and he still can't beat me. Never will."