Small stats, big impact

Published 8:50 pm Wednesday, November 14, 2012

East Carolina WR Justin Jones is sixth on the team in receptions but his impact on Pirates football games extends beyond the box score. (ECU Photo/Rob Goldberg)

GREENVILLE — It’s hard to imagine that a 6-8, 258-pound man could be overlooked, but at times throughout the season that has appeared to be the case with East Carolina’s Justin Jones.
The junior WR/TE is a gifted athlete blessed with tremendous size, good speed and soft hands, yet as the Pirates (6-4, 5-1 C-USA) head into their 11th game of the season Jones has only 19 receptions, one less than backup running back Michael Dobson.
As of now, Jones stands as ECU’s sixth-leading receiver and has scored only three touchdowns this year, all of which came during a 41-7 romp over Memphis.
Though his stats might not reflect it, his coaches say the big man has had a big impact on the offense.
“You just can’t look at it like that,” East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said of Jones’ statistics. “I can understand the point, but you just can’t look at it like that, we certainly don’t as coaches.
“We inside here understand the impact he’s had on this offense and the good things that he’s done. A lot of the scores that he’s created haven’t shown up in the stat book. How much better we’ve run the ball this year, I think he’s a big part of that.”
Jones said he has no gripes about how he used in the offense, and in fact embraces his role as a blocker.
“The season is going good for me,” Jones said. “Numbers-wise on paper it probably doesn’t look like I’ve been too productive but I’ve done a pretty good job of fulfilling my role here on the team and leading these guys and getting people open and making key blocks.”
It’s hard to quantify Jones’ impact on the offense by the number of receptions, but the effect he has on Saturday’s shows up when you examine the Pirates’ rushing statistics.
As a team, ECU has already eclipsed last year’s rushing total as the Pirates have tallied 1,329 yards in 10 games, compared to 1,309 last season when Jones missed significant time due to knee and wrist injuries.
“I think people look at the exciting plays too much, the big catch and those things,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “Justin has blocked as well as any tight end that I’ve been around. The run game is not by accident. We’re able to run with (running backs) ’Tay (Cooper) and Reggie (Bullock) because Justin has done a great job on the edge.”
It’s also not by accident that Jones sometimes just can’t get thrown too, as opposing defenses are well aware of his capabilities.
“I have some plays that are designed for me and sometimes they just don’t work out, the ball goes to the check down and that’s fine,” Jones said. “I enjoy blocking. I can go in there and not have a single ball thrown to me all game and that would be fine with me as long as I’m helping my team win.”
Another factor in Jones’ lack of receptions is the fact that he plays the “Y” receiver, which is the same position as Justin Hardy, who has been sensational all season and leads ECU with 62 receptions, 820 yards and nine TDs.
“(Jones) has been a guy that people have really started to account for and it’s given us one-on-one matchups at other places and that’s what this offense is predicated on,” Riley said. “The other part of it is that he plays the same position as Hardy and those guys probably both lose (some stats) a little bit but it’s important for us to be really productive at that position.”
Catches or no catches, the only numbers Jones cares about are the one under the ‘W’ column, which is a trait shared with all his teammates.
“You have to control what you can control,” Riley said. “I think we have a very unselfish team right now and Justin is certainly one of those guys and this is one of the most unselfish teams that I’ve had in my years of coaching and I think that’s why this team is rapidly improving.”