In the Michigan football team’s ugly 10-9 win over Northwestern on Nov. 8, 2014, Wildcats wide receiver Christian Jones remembers cringing on the sideline. On the bench with a knee inury, Jones was forced to sit out all of Northwestern’s 2014 season, in which it went 5-7. Even after rehab, Jones was sidelined even longer because of a second knee surgery.
This fall, Jones has seen several first-year players rise to help lead the now 13th-ranked Wildcats. No. 18 Michigan hosts Northwestern, also a resurgent program, on Saturday anticipating another close — though likely less sloppy — battle.
Jones sat down with the Daily at Big Ten Media Days in August to discuss rehab, a new offense, playing with a chip on his shoulder and sloppy competitions against Michigan in the past.
The Michigan Daily: Has your role changed since you were last a part of the offense?
Christian Jones: Possibly, but I’m here to help the team however I can. Ideally, I never want to step off that field and want to be a part of every play and every game, but I know that can change, and I’m OK with that if it helps the team win. I want to do whatever I can to help. That might be extra reps, that might be more time on the bench — whatever it is, I’m ready.
TMD: How did the team approach the summer after such a disappointing season? How did you help lead the team while still rehabbing for a second time?
CJ: Lots of tape. Our coach came to us all and told us our team needs to better, and he wants us to do better by having a better culture and have more of a sense of accountability, and a lot of that came from watching tape and seeing where we can improve. I was there to help with that. Whatever I did to get myself back I did on the side, but I was there to get the team back to the standard we wanted to be at.
TMD: You have a new quarterback this season. As a receiver, what traits are you looking for in your quarterback?
CJ: When I think of the best quarterbacks I’ve had, confidence is a must, but you can’t be so confident that you know your pass was right and (the receivers) messed it up. You have to be humble enough to ask questions, ‘How do you want this throw? Where do you want me to hit you?’ And I think a quarterback that constantly wants to learn from his receivers and his running backs and his offensive linemen is constantly getting better.
TMD: To those who haven’t seen (freshman running back) Justin Jackson, how would you describe his play?
CJ: Interesting. He’s very fun to watch. Every time I watch him he’s bouncing off tackles, cutting, making people miss — it’s pretty cool. I watched a three-yard gain by him in practice, and he was just weaving through, bouncing off people just to get those three yards. It was amazing to see.
TMD: A team like Northwestern doesn’t get many high-profile recruits. How do you make up for it against higher-profile teams?
CJ: We have a chip on our shoulder. We understand that we’ve got to be a lot more gritty and we’ve got to work harder than these other guys and we have to have fight — we have to fight a lot more than the other teams to make up for it.
TMD: Michigan and Northwestern have played in some close, but ugly, games as of late. What’s the mentality like in that matchup? Would you call it a rivalry?
CJ: I’m not sure if it’s a rivalry, but it’s definitely a game we have circled on our calendar, especially the offensive guys because we haven’t done our jobs in the past two games. I remember cringing looking at the film this summer. It was one of our worst games both seasons as a unit. But it’s a ton of fun going up against Michigan. They bring a lot of excitement to our games and have a similar style of play to us. Now that they have (Jim Harbaugh), we’re that much more excited to battle them.