Josh Jones is in the honesty business.
There’s no need to sugarcoat or tread lightly when talking about the N.C. State safety’s 2015 season.
“I had a bad year, yes, you can say that,” Jones said.
The redshirt junior from Walled Lake, Mich. is quick to add a qualifier.
“But I’ve got two more years left,” Jones said. “Just because I had a bad year doesn’t mean the rest of my years have to be bad. It’s all about getting better.”
On the improvement front, Jones has already made strides in the offseason in the weight room and with his attitude. Both coach Dave Doeren and defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable used the word “mature” to describe Jones.
“His maturity level from last year to this year is, I don’t know if you’d say 180, but it’s close,” Doeren said. “He has grown up a lot.”
N.C. State’s defense, as a whole, struggled with giving up big plays. The Wolfpack allowed 38 plays from the line of scrimmage of 30 yards or more, the most in the ACC.
That certainly doesn’t all fall on Jones, who started 11 games at strong safety and finished the season with 63 tackles. But as the last line of defense, Jones’ mistakes were noticeable and amplified.
On one of the most critical plays of the season, a 68-yard touchdown run by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Wolfpack’s 20-13 loss in its ACC opener, Jones has a clear shot at Jackson, eight yards down the field, but Jackson ran by him with Jones barely getting a hand on the speedy quarterback.
Jones also had trouble with double moves on pass routes, notably in the first quarter of a 63-13 win at South Alabama.
“It’s no longer, mistake here or mistake there,” Jones said. “All of those mistakes are going to be dead now.”
There are specific areas where Jones would like to improve but he said his real problem last season was complacency. He had a strong redshirt freshman season in 2014 with four interceptions, which was the second most in the ACC.
“You’re going into the next year and you’re thinking, ‘I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that,’ ” Jones said. “You get kind of big-headed. Complacency leads to failure.”
Jones has made two changes to put last year’s struggles in the past. He has a new number (11) and has moved from strong safety to free safety. In N.C. State’s defense, the free safety lines up on the boundary or short side of the field.
“The boundary fits my abilities and being more in the box,” Jones said. “My tendency last year was to try to do too much and that’s kind of what messed me up last year.”
Last year’s struggles humbled Jones, Doeren said. After a good freshmen season, Doeren said it’s not uncommon for players to have the problems that Jones did.
“A lot of guys play well like he did as a freshman and they think it’s going to be easy the next year and it’s not,” Doeren said. “You’ve got to earn it every year. I think he learned a lot from last year.”
Part of Jones’ maturity process has been accepting honest criticism. Huxtable said earlier in Jones’ career he would take corrections the wrong way.
“Josh has accepted tough coaching and knows that it’s tough love, not a beatdown,” Huxtable said. “He has grown up so much as a person and as a football player. I’m really proud of him.”
Jones, listed at 6-2 and 215 pounds, has impressed everyone with his offseason workouts. He has the size, speed and strength to be one of the best defensive backs in the ACC. He just might have the attitude to match this year.
“I had to humble myself to come out here and work like I’m the worst,” Jones said. “I know I have a lot of God-given ability and it’s all about going out there and putting it all together.”
And if you think Jones is going to have another bad season, he has an honest answer for that, too.
“I’ll prove everybody wrong,” Jones said. “I guarantee you that.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio