Under Armour preview: Notre Dame target Ronald Jones set to make choice

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Sometime this week, Ronald Jones settled on a decision.

After backing off his verbal commitment to Oklahoma State on Dec. 14, the four-star running back recruit turned his complete attention to Notre Dame and USC. As recently as Tuesday, Jones said he hadn’t made up his mind.

That will change Friday when he announces his commitment at the Under Armour All-America Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. Jones will be one of a handful to share their pledge on the nationally televised event from Tropicana Field. The game is set to kick off at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Jones stands as Notre Dame’s most imminent option to land a long-coveted second running back in the 2015 class. Jones could just as easily choose the rival Trojans and force the Irish to look elsewhere. He visited both schools in December.

“The tradition, academics and elite football are all things I like,” Jones said Tuesday via phone. “I just have to figure out which is the better offensive scheme for me. I'm really torn between the two. It's about 50-50 right now.”

Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell joined the horde of recruiting analysts and reporters in Florida this week to follow the week-long preparation for the game. Asked to make a prediction, Farrell said he believes Notre Dame will land Jones, but he’s not confident.

"It's hard to read Ronald Jones,” Farrell said. “I think he's leaning Notre Dame because I know his mom is.”

More steadfast is Farrell’s evaluation of the 5-foot-10, 185-pound back after watching him practice against some of the nation’s best. Rivals ranks Jones as the No. 9 running back in the 2015 class. 247Sports slates him No. 19 at the position.

“He's a fast kid. The first day he bounced everything outside and he was learning very quickly at this level that doesn't work,” Farrell said. “The defensive ends can run you down. He started to hit it harder between the tackles. He's a physical kid who's not afraid to get hit. But he's not the biggest kid in the world. He has good receiving skills.”

“He's a guy that's the perfect match to a Theo Riddick type of running back. Not as tall or long as Theo, but faster."

Jones, No. 24 on Team Highlight, is joined by four Notre Dame commits and three top targets as Under Armour All-Americans.

• QB commit Brandon Wimbush (No. 7, Team Armour): The combination of rainy weather, new wide receivers and dominant defensive linemen made for a rough start of the week for Wimbush and the rest of the quarterbacks practicing in Kissimmee, Fla.

“The first day he was over-striding a little bit and sailing the ball,” Farrell said. “On the second day, he didn't get a whole lot of time to get the ball out when they were in team. He didn't show the field vision that he normally has. Wednesday was probably the best he's been, but it was still average for him.

“He's been a little bit disappointing in practice, but it's nothing we don't expect. The game will determine a lot for Brandon because they're not really letting these guys use their instincts while they're installing plays and running the plays. When he gets to move around a little bit, we'll see."

The Rivals staff entered the week looking at Wimbush as a candidate to earn five-star status. He would need to really impress on Friday to make that leap.

“He's a high four-star guy who had a great senior season,” Farrell said. “He's continually developed. He's not the tallest quarterback (6-1) in the world, but he's filled out and he's big. He has a really strong arm, and he can move around. With the quarterbacks we like to see how they respond to a different level of play. So far it hasn't been a terrific response by any of them."

• LB commit Te’von Coney (No. 17 Team Armour): Interest from the new Florida coaching staff made for an intriguing week off the field for Coney, but he told multiple reporters he remains 100 percent committed to Notre Dame, where he is scheduled to enroll in a couple weeks.

On the field, Farrell said Coney has been really good.

“He's made plays in the linebacker drills with LaVar Arrington. He's getting lower. He's popping pads a little bit more,” Farrell said. “In practice, the linebackers haven't been able to do much because the d-lines have been so dominant. There's not a lot of hits on the second level. But in drills, he's been one of those guys that's been praised the most. His final grade will come during the game itself when there is actually hitting.”

• K commit Justin Yoon (No. 19, Team Highlight): A video of Yoon nailing a 53-yard field goal in practice hit Twitter earlier in the week. That’s a good sign for the Irish, who could use Yoon immediately as a freshman with the absence of Kyle Brindza.

“He has a really strong leg,” Farrell said. “He's a little guy, but he can kick it. He was kicking 40-45 yarders with regularity. He's going to be a good weapon for them, and a guy who is going to be pretty consistent. He doesn't have high ups and downs. He seems very steady emotionally. He has the most live leg out of the two kickers by far."

• CB commit Shaun Crawford (No. 24, Team Highlight): The diminutive Crawford has shown he can hang with bigger players because of his explosive playing style. Even five-star cornerback Iman Marshall sang his praises earlier in the week.

“He is tiny (5-9), but he is really good in coverage,” Farrell said. “He's clearly the smallest guy out there on either team, other than the kickers. He runs really well. He always seems to be in stride with very good receivers. He has a couple picks. He's just kind of a pesky kid. He reminds me a little bit of Cody Riggs. That type of guy.

“He's very fast, very athletic, but he's going to have trouble with these bigger receivers. There's no way around that. He likes to play press. He's an aggressive kid. And he's also not afraid to come up and tackle.”

• WR target Equanimeous St. Brown (No. 6, Team Highlight): St. Brown is the most likely uncommitted Under Armour All-American to join Notre Dame’s recruiting class by signing day. The 6-5, 200-pound receiver would add another dimension to the Irish offense. Stanford and Utah are top contenders outside of Notre Dame for St. Brown.

“He's a big receiver and a big target,” Farrell said. “One day he'll be a little robotic and stiff and not be physical and then the next day he'll come out and box out really well and use some route-running skills to get open. Monday he was OK. Tuesday he was really good. Wednesday he was OK. Consistency is going to be one of those things. He's not going to be a long threat. He's a red-zone and possession kind of guy."

• CB target Iman Marshall (No. 8, Team Highlight): Notre Dame impressed Marshall on his official visit in December, but there’s a long way to go in his recruitment. The five-star recruit said earlier this week that he’s still considering every school in the nation. USC, Florida State, Oregon, LSU, Michigan, UCLA and Stanford all figure to be contenders for the nation’s top cornerback.

"He’s by far the best corner here,” Farrell said. “Kevin Toliver is probably the second best, but there's a huge difference. Iman's taller, thicker, more instinctual. He is a leader. He's a guy that pretty much lines up the defense even though he's at corner. He picks up tendencies very quickly. He's amazing. He hasn't been beaten when I've watched him. He's had a couple picks and batted passes. He just always seems to be in the right position.”

• RB target Soso Jamabo (No. 2, Team Armour): At one point this fall, Jamabo appeared destined to play for Notre Dame. The Irish have since faded in his recruitment with UCLA charging ahead and others looking to join. Jamabo, who rushed for 2,279 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior at Plano (Texas) West, has played wide receiver all week.

“I think it's UCLA for him and Texas is sort of getting in there,” Farrell said. “Jamabo liked Notre Dame, but I think he's really enamored with UCLA right now and possibly Texas now that they're starting to get some kids."

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Four-star running back Ronald Jones will make a commitment to Notre Dame or USC at Friday's Under Armour All-America Game. (Photo courtesy of INTERSPORT/DANIEL FAIRS)