The physical tools have never been a question mark for Darrion Jones.
At 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing in around 255 pounds, the Colorado senior has ideal size for a tight end. This year, however, Jones is hoping to maximize the tools he has and become a force with the Buffaloes’ offense.
Jones is one of several players fighting for playing time at tight end, and after joining the team a year ago as a junior college transfer, he feels much more equipped to contribute.
“It feels way different (this year),” Jones said after a recent practice. “I’m very comfortable. Last fall camp, my head was all over the place. Now I’m settling in and everything is coming easier. I’m able to read the defense better and stuff like that.”
Jones played two seasons at Los Angeles Harbor College and put up big numbers in 2017, with 41 catches for 795 yards and five touchdowns. After that season, he jumped at a scholarship offer from CU.
The transition from junior college to the Pac-12 was overwhelming at times, though. Jones played in seven games last year, but didn’t catch any passes.
“It was a big change coming from JUCO, trying to get a feel of everything,” he said. “I came in the spring, so I never had excuses. It was everything on me. Now I’m just holding myself accountable and going hard in the weight room, going hard in the film room and just trying to be ready every time I come out here.”
He said the 2018 season was frustrating, but added, “I’m putting a chip on my shoulder this year and making sure I put myself in the best position to be successful.”
So far, Jones is doing that, but it’s a group that is collectively improving.
“I would definitely say the group has taken a step (in camp),” first-year head coach Mel Tucker said Monday. “We’re going to use our tight ends. First and foremost they have to do a great job blocking for us, but in the passing game, we target all of our tight ends. We’re going to have three or four guys that we can use in the run game and the pass game. I’m happy with that position.”
Previous head coach Mike MacIntyre used tight ends as blockers, but that group accounted for only 17 catches in the past three seasons combined. That number figures to increase this year, although catching the ball is a work in progress for all of them.
“We’re not really consistent at catching the ball, a contested ball,” tight ends coach Al Pupunu said. “That comes with practice and getting different looks and also some drills we can work on there.”
During the early stages of fall camp, senior graduate transfer Jalen Harris and sophomore Brady Russell have spent the most time with the first-team offense. The most natural pass catchers in the group, Pupunu said, are senior Beau Bisharat and sophomore Luke Stillwell, but both are fairly new to the position. Bisharat moved from running back in the spring and Stillwell, a recent JUCO transfer, began last year as a quarterback.
“They’re just thinking so much right now,” Pupunu said.
Jones, meanwhile, has a potential future at the next level, but plenty of work to get there, Pupunu said.
“I’d like him to come around a little bit faster, but he’s making progress step by step and every day he’s getting better,” Pupunu said. “There will be some things where he takes a step back, but as long as he continues to focus on the positives we’ll be OK.
“I’m seeing some confidence out of him. He’s catching the ball a little bit better and identifying the fronts a lot better and understanding the calls. That’s the most important thing is if you understand the fronts and your calls then you know exactly what you’re doing. Every now and then he’ll have a mental bust, but that’ll happen. We just have to eliminate those and get better every day.”
If Jones continues on his current path, he could find himself playing a key role for the Buffs this season. More than anything, he wants his final year of college football to be a great one.
“I’m very determined, but not even just personally,” he said. “I want the team to be successful. I want us to get a bowl game, so I’m trying to push myself and push my teammates that I go against every day.”