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ASU set for initial camp under Jones

by Eli Lederman | March 9, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

The "PR Bell" sits at the center of the weight room inside Arkansas State University's football facility. The instrument was reintroduced under new head coach Butch Jones, and it's there to be hammered any time one of his football players sets a new personal record dead lifting or in the bench press.

The Red Wolves have kept it busy this offseason.

"It's been ringing a lot," senior safety Elery Alexander said. "There's been so many PRs. Too many PRs."

The return of the celebratory bell is among the few material changes Jones has made since he arrived from the University of Alabama in December. The rest have been less tangible as the 53-year old coach and his staff have sought to establish a new culture in Jonesboro.

Jones and Co. will watch to see if their early imprint shows up on the field when ASU opens its 2021 spring camp today. The differences are already showing throughout the program, represented the weight room with the routines vibrations of the "PR Bell".

"We have a different mentality," Alexander said. "Everybody is locked in. I want to say it's a better environment. It's more intense. More focused. More detailed. More disciplined. There's a big urgency."

The first of 15 spring practices under Jones begins today with spring camp running through the spring game on April 17 at Centennial Bank Stadium. All but the final spring scrimmage will be closed to the public due to covid-19 protocols.

ASU's Pro Day is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday and is expected to feature former Red Wolves including wide receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. and defensive lineman Forrest Merrill, who were also extended invites to the NFL Scouting Combine last week.

The opening practice offers Jones his first on-field time with an ASU team that finished 4-7 in 2020, its first losing season since 2010. The Red Wolves return without Adams -- their leading receiver in 2020 -- and top ball carrier Jamal Jones, as well as two of its top-five tacklers from 2020 in Merrill and Justin Rice, leaving plenty of question marks strewn across ASU's depth chart.

"We're about to find out what we're all about," Jones said. "We've had a great offseason, but you really find out when you put the pads on and start playing football. So I'll know a little bit more of where we're at as a team, as a football program pretty soon."

In the seven weeks that preceded spring camp, Jones felt it was "critical" to immerse his team in an intense strength and conditioning program.

"It's just the way things occurred with the pandemic," he said. "These players have not been through a full offseason strength and conditioning program for an entire year. It was really big for us to regain strength, explosiveness, all the things that go into being a better football player."

Those seven weeks introduced Jones' players to "the process" the head coach brought with him from Alabama, emphasizing focus, discipline and a "do-your-job" mentality.

"You hear the word 'discipline' 100 or more times a day," Alexander said.

That culture permeated the offseason strength program. Under new leadership and a new culture, the weight room kept a constant level of energy and competition, aided by the presence of assistant coaches kept on campus by covid-19 enforced recruiting restrictions. The "PR Bell" has kept active since January.

The coming month of practices will show Jones and his staff the impact of their work since taking over three months ago, but the early returns are already on display in the weight room.

"Seeing guys that don't normally PR walk up and ring that bell, there's a new excitement and energy on this team," Murray said." "The bell is getting rung every two every two seconds it seems."

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