Gerald Jones has never been afraid to be critical — even of himself.
“I wasn’t really involved in the offense enough. I was really more down on myself and really wondering what’s going on,” the Tennessee junior receiver said Wednesday, recalling his emotions following a loss at home against Auburn on Oct. 3 in which he had seven catches for 75 yards and no touchdowns.
So Jones did something about his limited production.
“Right after Auburn I came in and talked to (receivers) coach (Frank) Wilson and I said ‘I hate losing. I really hate losing because we should have won that game.’ ” Jones said. “I said ‘Be harder on me than you are any other receiver on this squad because I’m going to get better. I’m going to stay after practice and I’m going to do extra work and I’m going to get better and it’s going to show.’
“I told him ‘I guarantee you that.’ ”
Jones is living up to his promise. He’s stayed 20 to 25 minutes after practice to polish his game and posted a season high 105 yards and two touchdowns in UT’s 45-19 win over Georgia on Oct. 10.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton said he’s benefited from the extra time as well. The two have also spurred some other Vols to follow their lead.
Jones, who had five catches against Georgia, said senior Quintin Hancock was the first to join in the extra work, followed by freshmen Marsalis Teague and Nu’Keese Richardson, then most every receiver.
“It’s a movement,” Jones said. “And me as a leader and a captain of this wide receiver team, it’s up to me to get us out here and get better. The hard work is paying off.”
Most wouldn’t have thought Jones would have to rededicate himself after he drew rave reviews from UT’s coaches during off-season workouts.
UT coach Lane Kiffin rallied to Jones’ defense in September, citing ankle and wrist injuries when asked why the junior hadn’t been more productive.
Jones said he remembers hearing Kiffin defending him, saying he wasn’t 100-percent healthy despite what Jones had tell reporters.
“I actually remember watching that on television and I got defensive,” Jones said.
The anger helped Jones fight through the emotions that had undermined him when other receivers were more productive as he was trying to recuperate.
“I almost felt as if I was forgotten about,” he said. “That wasn’t the attitude to have.”
Jones’ rededication has also helped his rehabilitation. Senior tailback Montario Hardesty has noticed the difference.
“Montario came to me the other day and was like ‘Your ankle must be feeling good because you look like you did back in the spring and in the summer,’ ” Jones said.
Jones, however, isn’t content.
“I’m not happy with it because I want more,” he said. “I’ve actually showed eagerness and hungriness to get better. And when I do it, all my other fellow receivers, they start doing it to.”