Maryland sophomore Randall Jones knew he'd play this season. He just didn't expect it would be as a safety.
Jones became the Terrapins' starting quarterback late last season, but lost the job to redshirt freshman Calvin McCall during this year's preseason camp. Coach Ron Vanderlinden and Jones agreed on a move to safety after the Terrapins opened the season with a victory at Temple. Jones's playing time has been increasing again heading into Saturday's game North Carolina at Byrd Stadium.
Jones played quarterback and safety at Thomas Johnson High School, but said he was recruited mostly as a defensive back. Vanderlinden moved him to quarterback last season, and he started four games and completed 44 of 98 passes for 567 yards and three touchdowns with four interceptions.
Prior to the start of preseason practice, Vanderlinden said the starting quarterback position was Jones's to lose. He then struggled with a sore arm, opening the door for McCall, who played well in the 6-0 victory at Temple. Vanderlinden already had started thinking about switching McCall to safety, but he wanted to make sure McCall didn't need help in the opener.
Vanderlinden announced the move the day after Temple game, and Jones spent the next three weeks learning how to play free safety and strong safety. His first appearance on defense was a brief one two weeks ago at Wake Forest, and he saw more extended action last weekend against Clemson. This week, he is No. 2 on the depth chart at strong safety, and he already has 10 tackles.
"After we got through the opener, and Calvin handled things pretty well, it didn't seem fair to Randall to have him on the bench when we could use him in the secondary and give him a chance to really get into a position that might be more suited to his talent," Vanderlinden said. "It's the position he came here to play. He came to be a safety."
Vanderlinden said Jones will need the rest of the season and the upcoming spring practice period to become a true safety. Once that happens, Vanderlinden said Jones should compete for a starting position.
Jones said he has enjoyed moving over to the defensive backfield, although it has taken some time to get reacquainted with the position.
"I knew it would be an adjustment, but it's bringing me a lot more satisfaction," Jones said. "It's just going to take some time. I played three years at safety in [high school], then went two years without playing it."
Despite that two-year sabbatical from the position, the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Jones quickly has become one of the defensive backfield's top tacklers.
"He's probably one of our better hitters in the secondary right now," defensive backfield coach Doug Mallory said. "He's probably one of our most physical players."
Said starting free safety Shawn Forte: "Randall is a real supreme athlete. He's picking things up really, really fast. He wanted to pick up the schemes and everything, and so far he's got it."
Jones was successful at quarterback and safety in high school. He ran for 19 touchdowns and threw for 13 as a senior in 1996. He also had 21 career interceptions and was a three-time all-Central Maryland Conference selection at both positions.
So, it hasn't surprised high school coaches who knew Jones at Thomas Johnson that he has ended up in Maryland's secondary.
North Carroll Coach Bill Rumbaugh said his team could never catch Jones when he ran from the quarterback spot, but Jones's defensive abilities remain in Rumbaugh's mind three years later.
"When he was in high school, we always thought he would be a secondary guy because of his ability to deliver a blow," Rumbaugh said. "I think he will prove more valuable to them in the secondary. He will be a force back there."