KNOXVILLE — I keep intending to interview just one University of Tennessee football player for this weekly “Wednesday’s with Wes” web special, but this week provided another can’t-miss opportunity to interview two Volunteers.
Today’s guests are senior wide receiver Gerald Jones and sophomore safety Janzen Jackson.
Jones returned to practice this week after breaking his hand in UT’s 50-0, season-opening win over UT-Martin on Sept. 4.
Jackson had been committed to LSU for nearly a full year until the day after national signing day in 2009, when the five-star prospect stunned many by choosing the Vols.
I spoke with both players this week and asked several questions about two of the most hotly-debated topics heading into Saturday’s game at 12th-ranked LSU — Jones’ health, and Jackson’s return to his native Louisiana.
Q: Guess who has two thumbs and returned to practice today? You did.
Q: How do you feel? I see a lot of tape and a splint on that hand?
JONES: “And this.” (Takes off glove and displays surgical scar.)
JONES: “I know.”
Q: Is that a custom-made, mini-splint or pad thing you’ve got there? It looks all specific and scientific and whatnot.
JONES: “Yeah. It was flat, but they put it in some water so it could be mobile. And then they did had to cut it and do all that, and that just let it sit and harden.”
Q: Is it just a precautionary thing, or are doctors worried you’ll re-aggravate the injury? Obviously, you’re not 100 percent.
JONES: “If I’m not 100 percent, I’m 99 percent.”
Q: So that is just a precautionary thing?
JONES: “Yeah, pretty much. The doc said he’s not really worried about me taking a blow on it — because that might happen — but the biggest thing is (heck), when I’m not playing football, just getting my fingers snatched up on something. I have to keep the buddy tape on. Now, if I played without the buddy tape, I’d be in big trouble.”
Q: Buddy tape?
JONES: “You know, this tape right here, when you tape one finger to the other.”
Q: I’m just going to be real with you, Gerald. That doesn’t look 99 or 100 percent.
JONES: “Naw, I’m good, man. I’m good.”
Q: You had surgery like three weeks ago.
JONES: “I was wondering the same thing. Most bones break like this (a pure crack), but my bone broke like that (an overlap), and it slid. So what they did was they just put it back together and then drilled screws on top of each other. It broke slanted, so they had to put it back together and then screw it in.”
Q: But you just told me you’re more worried about your fingers than your hand. I’m not a doctor. Will you explain this in clear English, if you don’t mind?
JONES: “I don’t know why my pinkie’s giving me a a problem now. That’s a question I can’t answer, and that’s my biggest concern in catching the ball. This (finger) is a part of this (hand), and if I (pull a finger a certain way) in any way, form or fashion, I don’t know what would happen. But that’s what they want to prevent.”
Q: This is football. Good luck with preventing that.
JONES: “(Laughter.) Hey man, it is what it is. I’m good to go.”
Q: So you’re going to tape the two fingers together, put on that pad, tape up the whole thing, take a couple of pills and off you go to face LSU?
JONES: “Pretty much. Put that over it, wrap it up, and then I go play. That’s pretty much it.”
Q: What was the first thing you did when you heard your hand was broken? You’re a senior, and you’d just gotten fully healthy for the first time in your career. That had to sting.
JONES: “You want to know the first thing I did when I heard that I broke it?”
Q: Of course I want to know. Did you say some bad words? I’ve broken a few bones, and that’s what I do.
JONES: “(Lowers voice to a whisper.) I uh ... I uh ... I cried. I ain’t going to lie. I did. I cried. I did. I did. I’d never broken anything, man. When I caught the ball and got up, my hand was just so numb. I thought it was just a big jam, and I’d jammed all my fingers, really. And then I got back to the (hospital), and we took an X-ray. We took the X-ray up top, and they said it was fine. Then they took the one on the side, and the bone was sticking out. And when they said, ‘You broke it,’ I just broke down. I didn’t know how long I was going to be out. I’d never broken anything in my life.”
Q: Did you worry you’d have to possibly redshirt like (fourth-year senior defensive end) Ben Martin?
JONES: “Right. I didn’t know how long I was going to be out. I didn’t know if it was the whole season or whatever. I’m just counting my blessings, man.”
Q: So you’re good to go?
JONES: “Of any injury that I’d had and came back to — and I know there’s been a lot — this is the one that I’m most ready for to get back. The ankles, the knees, the shoulders ... all of that. This is the one I feel best about coming back.”
JONES: “I don’t know. I just feel good. I just do.”
Q: But you seem concerned about some stuff down there.
JONES: “I don’t know, (my hand) might hurt a little bit, but losing hurts more.”
Q: I know you’re just one guy, but do you think your return can boost this recently pathetic third down offense?
JONES: “I honestly think I can, because (opponents) will have more things to worry about now. There’s more weapons to worry about on third down now. Two weeks ago, we might have needed a rookie to make the play, or another young guy to make the play. Well, now on third downs, there’s not going to be as many rookies out there. Now you’ve got three seniors — me, Denarius (Moore) and the tight end (Luke Stocker) — and a pretty darn good sophomore in Zach Rogers who proved himself last week, and some older running backs. It makes it a whole lot harder to guard. We’re not going to do anything special. We’re just going to do us.
“For one, we’re trying to stay out of that position, but if we do, man ... I’m pushing this team right now so hard, they probably don’t like me. But I don’t like it. I don’t like the way we’re playing. Not one bit. I’m on everybody’s tail. We’re not going to allow that to happen again.”
Q: You’re getting a tough assignment for your return in LSU star cornerback Patrick Peterson. From what you’ve seen on film, could he be the best guys you’ve faced in your college career. I know you’re tight with former teammate Eric Berry, so you don’t have to say him.
JONES: “Between (Peterson) and (former Florida cornerback) Joe Haden, I think it’s a fair run. And (heck), Joe Haden was a first-round draft pick, so there you go. He’s a good player. You can tell he’s a smart player. He makes plays when plays are needed.”
Q: At least Haden is little.
JONES: “Yeah. And (heck), this guy’s a monster right here. He does things good. He does a lot of things good, but he’s human like all of us, and he has a couple of weaknesses, just like all of us do.”
Q: But his weaknesses seem a little harder to expose, right?
JONES: “Right. If you can expose him, then you’ll be in good shape. But he’s going to do more good things than wrong.”
Q: So you’re ready for him?
JONES: “I’m so ready for No. 7. I’m ready for him. I probably watched film on him for about two hours yesterday. To be honest with you, I think a lot of people fear him because he’s so big. He’s a good athlete, but he has his weaknesses, too.
“He’s not Superman, and I’m going to give it my all and it’s going to be a battle come Saturday.”
Q: I don’t know what you’re going to say now, but you’ve told me several times how big this LSU game would be for you. Well, now it’s here. Are you trying to treat it like just another game, or is that impossible?
JACKSON: “You play things over in your head — different plays you’ll be in, different scenarios that will come about in the game. You envision yourself making plays. You do that with every game, but even more so with a game like this. Everybody here wants you to do good, everybody in your family wants you to do good, and then you’ve got 90,000 people (in Tiger Stadium) than want you to do bad.”
Q: And the millions of other LSU fans not watching the game in person, right?
JACKSON: “(Laughter). Yeah, you could say that.”
Q: As a yearlong LSU commit who switched to Tennessee one day after signing day last year, I’m sure you know what’s coming Saturday, right?
JACKSON: “Yeah, I know I’m going to be the most hated person in that stadium come Saturday.”
Q: You seem like the kind of guy who might like that role, though. Am I right?
JACKSON: “Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I kind of like it. It’s all right. It might be fun.”
Q: But seriously, how tough was your last-minute decision to switch from LSU to Tennessee?
JACKSON: “It was tough — real tough. You’re right, it was a last-minute decision. The morning of signing day, I was still LSU bound. And then my mama had a delayed flight (from California to Louisiana), and I wanted to do my signing day when my mama was there. So I did it day after signing day, and I had a whole other day to think about it, and a lot of things kept going through my head. I had one final talk with the coaches and stuff.”
Q: So if your mom’s flight hadn’t been delayed, you’d be a Tiger right now? Is that what you’re saying?
JACKSON: “Yeah. No doubt. I know. It’s crazy.”
Q: Obviously, as a defensive back in the league, you spend most of your time looking at opposing offenses. But I also know very well that you and some of the other highly touted guys keep track of each other. What do you think of LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson?
JACKSON: “Oh, yeah. He moves like Eric (Berry), but he’s bigger. I think he’s special at the cornerback position. He’s large, man. He’s very large. I’m playing safety, and he plays cornerback, and he’s 30 pounds heavier than me.”
Q: But what’s that really saying? You’re built like a corner, dude.
JACKSON: “(Laughter.) Yeah, yeah. I am. But man, he’s special. That’s what I’m saying.”
Q: There are five Louisiana natives on the Tennessee roster, and all of them said you pile on more hot sauce than anyone. I’ve heard it’s kind of gross, actually. What’s with that? Do you not enjoy the, uh, taste of your food?
JACKSON: “(Laughter.) No, man. It’s not that bad. I just like my food spicy. Gumbo, boudin ... I like hot sauce with my Cajun food.”
Q: Can you get authentic Cajun cuisine anywhere in Knoxville? I’ve been to Louisiana, and while the stuff here isn’t bad, it’s not the same. But you’re the expert, apparently. What’s your take?
JACKSON: “Yeah, in my ice box. They don’t have boudin out here, and they don’t have the type of gumbo I like. The type of gumbo out here is kind of watery. It doesn’t have a lot of rue in it. I like my gumbo with a lot of rue in it — dark and rich, like a gravy almost.”
Q: So your family sends it to you?
JACKSON: “Oh, yeah. They bring it every time. They make it and bring it.”
Q: How much can you save at a time?
JACKSON: “My ice box isn’t that big, but I’ve got a pretty big container of it.”
Q: You save it for special occasions only?
JACKSON: “Naw, man. I get it done. I eat it all the time, and I make them bring me more whenever they come.”
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739.
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