Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones is returning to Michigan State for his senior season, and I had a chance to catch up with the Spartans star linebacker after he made his official announcement.
Jones told me he always had been learning toward a return to the Spartans, but he still evaluated his NFL draft stock following the season. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio also looked into it, talking with four NFL general managers as well as other player personnel types.
Jones didn't want to go into specifics of what he heard but told me, "The news wasn't exactly terrible. It just wasn't good enough. It wasn't enough for me to leave."
Translation: Jones probably wouldn't have been a first-round pick in April.
Though Jones has accomplished a lot at the college level, he has several good reasons to return. He said Michigan State's disappointing 6-7 season played a role in his decision, and he's looking forward to leading a defense that needs to get better. Jones, a co-captain, also cares a lot about his academics and can complete his degree at Michigan State.
"I’m excited to see the young guys mature," Jones said. "We’ve still got some guys who are going to be great."
Jones also can improve as a player. We know about him as a tackler: He has led Michigan State in tackles for three consecutive seasons and recorded the seventh-highest single-season total in tackles in team history this fall (154). The consensus All-American also led Michigan State in both tackles for loss (14) and sacks (9).
Still, he'd like to bulk up a bit and improve against the pass.
"I want to be a factor [against the pass]," he told me. "I felt like I wasn't a big enough factor in order to take enough pressure off some of the guys in the back end. ... And the goal is always to get bigger. I don't want to get there too fast, cause me some back strain or anything like that. I want to do it the healthy way, and if I can play at a bigger weight, then I'll do it."
Jones could be named the Big Ten's preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight time this summer. At the very least, he'll be on any credible preseason All-America teams. The spotlight will be there, but Jones is used to it and handles the extra attention well.
"We always talk about discipline and maturity as a person, and Greg shows a great deal of that," Dantonio said. "In doing this, he shows a very unselfish attitude, which I think sends a message across the entire country. People come back to get better, they come back to make things better. Greg has an opportunity to do that."