KNOXVILLE -- The grim joke around the University of Tennessee football program last autumn was that the only way to ignite the offense was for Gerald Jones to catch his own passes out of the G-Gun set.
In fact, all one needs to know about former UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe's affection for Jones is that the "G" in G-Gun stood for Gerald. Cutcliffe coined the package two years ago when Jones was a true freshman.
And befitting a player who ran for 11 touchdowns and threw for 21 more during his senior year at Millwood (Okla.) High, Jones once said of that impossible mission to haul in his own throws, "It would be fun. I know one thing -- I would if I could."
Naturally, it never happened. And with Jones incapable of doing it all himself last season, the Vols finished 5-7. That disaster led to head coach Phillip Fulmer being replaced by Lane Kiffin.
It has also apparently led Kiffin to abandon the G-Gun, the new coach telling the media on several occasions, "We expect Gerald to be a great flanker for us."
Yet even that has been based more on reputation rather than results during the first two August scrimmages, since Jones has been sidelined for much of fall practice with an injury to his left hand and wrist that required a cast.
However, the cast was taken off the junior at the end of last week, prompting Jones to say last Saturday, "I feel 100 percent now."
That's fantastic news for an offense whose best playmakers during the first two scrimmages have all been freshmen -- wideout Marsalis Teague and running backs Bryce Brown and David Oku.
"Gerald's a dynamic guy who knows every position," said backup quarterback Nick Stephens. "He makes big plays and he's a smart player. But it's not just what he knows. It's what he can teach the younger players. He really works hard to help make the younger players better."
Kiffin strongly echoed that thought, saying of Jones, "He's a smart, talented kid, and he's always pushing himself and his teammates to get better. The way Gerald's been out here making plays every day, you wouldn't know he had a cast on."
Yet there was a brief time when Jones wasn't sure Kiffin would be better for his career than Fulmer had been.
"Coach didn't say much when he first got here," recalled Jones. "I got defensive. Then one day in practice he started joking around with me. I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was pretty sarcastic. That's kind of my sense of humor, too. So I really like Coach Kiffin now. He's already one of my favorite coaches who I've ever played for."
Ironically, Jones was already a big fan of one of the best players Kiffin ever recruited to Southern Cal -- Heisman Trophy winner and current New Orleans Saint running back Reggie Bush.
"Yeah, Southern Cal didn't recruit me much, but I watched them on TV a lot," said Jones. "I was always a big Reggie Bush fan."
Much as Bush always seemed to be everywhere doing everything, the same could be said of Jones' first two Big Orange seasons. As a freshman he ran for two touchdowns, caught another and accounted for at least 20 yards of offense on six occasions. A year ago he totaled at least 37 yards by ground or grab in eight different games. He also averaged nearly 40 yards on three kickoff returns and 7.5 yards on 15 punt returns.
"When Gerald gets the ball, anything can happen," said junior defensive end Chris Walker. "We've got a lot of big playmakers on offense this year, but when Gerald's on the field you've got to know where he is at all times. He can beat you with one play."
To prepare for that, Jones has spent his recuperation time running and riding a stationary bike whenever possible.
"The injury never stopped me from running," said Jones. "So I've been doing a lot of running. I've run three miles during a practice before. I've also been riding a (stationary) bike a lot. Sometimes 30 minutes or more at a time. I'm really ready to go."
And go is what he expects the offense to do often this year.
"This offense is going to be more productive than last year," he said. "More first downs, more touchdowns, more fun. It puts good players in position to make big plays."
Or at least keeps them from having to make impossible ones in order to ignite the UT offense.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...