Josh Jones was everywhere for N.C. State’s defense against Wake Forest.
The junior free safety had 12 tackles, a sack and broke up two passes in the Wolfpack’s 33-16 win Saturday.
Jones impressed just about everybody on the N.C. State side, except one person.
“I just executed the defense,” Jones said. “I was doing my job. That’s it.”
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After a difficult sophomore season, Jones has excelled at his job this year with a team-best 36 tackles through four games. He had a career-best 13 stops in a 33-30 loss to East Carolina on Sept. 10 to go with the sterling effort vs. Wake Forest.
N.C. State’s offense has plenty of playmakers but the defensive side has been short on standouts, especially in the back end.
A gifted athlete at 6-2 and 210 pounds, Jones has NFL size but needed to put some NFL-type plays on tape. He has done that early this season with some big challenges coming up against Notre Dame, Clemson and Louisville.
He’s one of those guys that makes the strength coach look good.
NC State strength coach Dantonio Burnette on Josh Jones
The challenge picks up for the N.C. State (3-1, 1-0) defense, with Notre Dame’s visit on Saturday (noon, ABC). The Fighting Irish (2-3) average 39.8 points and 327.8 passing yards per game.
“They have good quarterback, a good offensive line and good skill players,” Jones said. “And they like to take shots. We have to defend the deep ball and execute the plan.”
Some of the improvement can be chalked up to Jones’ offseason work. Jones credits strength coach Dantonio Burnette, and his staff, for pushing him.
Burnette said Jones, with his speed and strength, did all the hard work.
“He’s one of those guys that makes the strength coach look good,” Burnette said. “All we had to do was polish him up.”
The position switch, from strong safety to free, has helped Jones, too. He struggled with double moves and in deep coverage last season. At free safety, he gets more involved in the running game and it puts him in a position to use his strengths.
Jones has always been good at making plays in front of him, he’s making more of those this season, and he’s avoided the big mistakes that marked his 2015 season. He was third on the team last year with 63 tackles, including 33 solo stops. Through four games, he has 21 solo stops and 36 tackles. He didn’t have a game with more than nine tackles last season.
He has been N.C. State’s leading tackler in each of the last three games.
“He’s balling out right now and it’s great to see him make plays all over the field,” Burnette said. “He’s reaping the benefits of all the work he put in in the offseason.”
One difference N.C. State coach Dave Doeren has noticed is that Jones is playing faster. There’s less thinking and more doing.
“He has made a lot of progress and we’re happy for him,” Doeren said.
Jones only sees one difference between his play last year and his play now.
“I’m the same person,” Jones said. “It just comes down to executing the game plan. That’s it.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio