Offensive lineman Marcel Jones is recognized at Saints headquarters by his trademark afro, a retro hairstyle that makes him look even taller than he is at 6-foot-7. It’s accented by a curly beard.
Guard Jahri Evans joked Jones should blow-dry it out. Center Brian de le Puente suggested dreads before wondering if that would make it worse.
“You don’t like the ’fro, man?” Jones responded when asked about his chic beehive. “Hey man, I’m going to keep it ’til it falls out.”
If Jones continues his recent on-field performances, he’ll soon be known for something else.
The Saints are trying him out at right guard, an experiment that came about because of injuries at the position. Jones, who normally plays right tackle, moved to guard during Friday’s 17-13 preseason opener against Kansas City.
“I’m just out there trying to make the most out of every rep,” said Jones, a seventh-round pick in 2012. “It’s a new game, but I’m taking every day in stride and trying to get better.”
As expected with a new position, Jones made a few mental mistakes against the Chiefs. Overall, though, he has impressed, and that will increase his chances of earning a roster spot for the regular season.
The Saints usually keep eight linemen, including three backups who also play special teams. Seven are normally active on game day.
“Flexibility is also important when you have to go to a game day (with) 46 guys,” coach Sean Payton said. “Then you really can use a guy like him.”
It’s to Jones’ advantage to be able to play two positions on the line.
“I know from firsthand experience that the more you can do, the better you have of making a roster in the NFL,” said de la Puente, who, during his 2009 rookie season, played a different position every preseason game. Last season marked his first at just one position — center.
The transition from tackle to guard can be claustrophobic, Jones joked.
He’s accustomed to having space on his right side and protecting the inside, where Drew Brees does his passing. Now, Jones is surrounded on both sides by guys that move quicker than before on the outside.
“He has to get his feet down faster, because you don’t have as much space to get your feet down as you do at tackle, and you make contact sooner,” said Evans, the Saints’ All-Pro right guard. “I only see him getting better.”
The guys Jones sees on the inside are wider, not taller. The inside guys are often quicker in small spaces as opposed to faster with a head of steam.
“You don’t have to move as much, but the guys on the interior are a lot bigger,” offensive line coach Bret Ingalls said. “So you take a guy like Marcel that’s a big-body guy with strong hands — he gets his hands on them early. He has a chance to be successful.”
Jones is listed at 320 pounds. His girth allows him to sit back and gain leverage when defensive linemen attack with bull rushes.
Jones’ 2012 season ended before it started. He suffered a season-ending knee injury during one of the final practices before the regular-season opener.
“Hopefully I can make this team, whether it’s guard or tackle,” he said. “I’m going to take every day as a blessing.”
And the hair isn’t going anywhere.
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