Tuesday, March 13, 2007
By BOB LABRIOLA
Amos Jones is a living example of what special teams can do for someone looking to fashion himself a career in the National Football League.
If someone looks upon special teams as an opportunity and pursues it with passion, it can be the key that unlocks the door. This is how it happened for Jones, and that's a message a lot of guys will be getting right up until Coach Mike Tomlin makes the final decisions on the 53-man roster the Steelers will carry into the 2007 NFL season.
"I had always played it. Enjoyed it. Had a passion for it," said Jones about special teams, "and through the years just developed that passion. As a player or a coach, you have to have passion for it. People say it's one-third of the game, and if you look at it statistically in college football you average about 35 plays a game on special teams."
Jones was a safety and running back at Alabama under Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, and then his first job as a college assistant was at Temple under Bruce Arians, currently the Steelers offensive coordinator. Part of his time there was devoted to special teams, and when he returned to his alma mater in 1990 to work under Coach Gene Stallings it was as his special teams coach.
Jones also was the kicking game coordinator for one season at the University of Pittsburgh, and he also worked for one year with the Canadian Football League's British Columbia Lions. There were other stops along the way – at Tulane, as a high school coach in Louisiana and Alabama – and then Jones was hired at the University of Cincinnati where he coached running backs and special teams.
While Jones was there, Jonathan Ruffin won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker and punter Adam Wulfeck was voted All-Conference USA. That's also where Jones met Tomlin, who was the team's secondary coach.
"I always have tried to coach special teams just like you would linebackers or the running backs or the tight ends or any other position," said Jones. "You want to bring that same type of mentality to the coaching techniques.
"And Coach Bryant said it best. Don't mess up a good player. Coach them guys who need to be coached; leave the good players and let them be good."
Jones' title with the Steelers is assistant special teams coach, and it marks the first time in team history the franchise has assigned two men to the job, with Bob Ligashesky having the title of special teams coach. That's quite a departure for a team that was one of the last in the NFL to have a special teams coach, with Chuck Noll finally relenting in the late 1980s.
"It's got to be give-and-take for Bob and I in terms of watching tape together," said Jones when asked how having two special teams coaches was going to work. "Mike (Tomlin) and I were together at (the University of) Cincinnati, so he knows my passion for special teams. Bob has been in the league, and he has a passion for special teams as well. That's why it's going to work, because we're going to sit in there as a staff and formulate personnel and formulate schemes and come out of it with one clear focus of how we want to handle things."
And even though Jones said he tries to coach special teams just like any other position on the football team, well, there's also little argument that special teams is different than any other position on a football team.
"The biggest thing is it's a part of the game where you don't want mistakes, you don't want penalties, you don't want to burn timeouts," said Jones. "It's a management part of the game that can go against you or for you real quick, and there are ways to score in special teams that gets points on the board very quickly.
"That's the exciting part about it, but there are also ways to lose momentum through special teams. You almost want to say, 'We didn't get anything, but they didn't get anything either and we didn't hurt ourselves.' But you also want to be aggressive in terms of having a good return game and covering kicks."