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Spotlight: Cayleb Jones at the Austin High Spring Game

2012 Austin High wide receiver Cayleb Jones at the Maroons' 2010 spring game (photo by the author).
2012 Austin High wide receiver Cayleb Jones at the Maroons' 2010 spring game (photo by the author).

The 2011 Texas class is all but completed and the coaching staff already began to turn their attention to the 2012 class during the May evaluation period. One of the top targets in the class is a player who will be one of the most highly-regarded and highly-recruited in the country -- Austin High wide receiver Cayleb Jones.

Already possessing double-digit verbal offers, Jones also has elite pedigree, as his father, Robert, played linebacker for the Cowboys during the championship years and still looks capable of putting pads on and competing -- dude is jacked. Jones' cousin, Emory Blake, son of former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, was a star receiver at Austin High and is now an Auburn Tiger. Those sisters Robert Jones and Jeff Blake married certainly seemed to add some strong athletic genes of their own.

Early on in the process, Jones is rated as the top player in the state by Orangebloods and is considered one of the top prospects in the entire country. The 6-3, 185-pound playmaker first registered on the Texas radar during a monster sophomore season in which he caught 91 passes for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. In addition, he has dominated on the camp circuit and drawn rave reviews from anyone who has seen him compete, no matter the setting.

At the Austin High spring game last Friday evening, Jones had five catches for around 70 yards, with four of them coming in the second half. Jones, who played on the White team, had little opportunity in the first half, as the Maroon team controlled the clock with a grinding running game. On his only catch in the first half, Jones caught a tunnel screen and attempted to make a sharp cut but slipped on the artificial turf at House Park, a problem that arose several times during the game.

In the second half, Jones got more involved in the offense after a quarterback change. A catch-and-run of more than 20 yards helped jumpstart the first scoring drive for the White team -- Jones caught a short hitch, pivoted to the outside and stiff-armed a defender before taking off down the sideline. Had he been able to keep his balance , he could have taken it the distance. During the same drive, Jones took another short pass and turned it into a gain of more than 20 yards, making a one-handed catch on a ball thrown behind him on a crossing pattern and beating several defenders to the edge before being knocked out of bounds.

Another reception saw Jones catch yet another hitch, but turn inside towards the heart of the defense for a short gain. Then, during the final White drive of the evening, Jones caught another crossing pattern and stiff-armed a defender before heading out of bounds to preserve the expiring clock.

Jones also played safety during the game, where he showed off his fluidity throughout the game and his toughness on one particular play, when he lowered his shoulder into the Maroon team's tight end down the seam, dislodging the ball and leaving his teammate on the ground for several moments, shaken up. On another play, he showed off his speed and surprising strength for his lanky frame, using an angle to catch a receiver in the open field, then grabbing a handful of jersey and arresting his teammate's progress, while attempting to punch the ball free with his other hand. Jones will have to work hard in the weight room over the next several years because he has a much more slender frame than his beefy father, but appeared to have strong hands on that play.

Overall, Jones looked extremely fluid in his route running, although he did not have to run a wide variety of routes -- mostly hitches, crossing patterns, and several post routes. He might not run in the 4.4s (he's listed at 4.55), but he looks extremely quick and fast, coming into and out of his breaks quickly and looking like the best athlete on the field by far -- no surprise for a recruit so highly-touted.

The major issue for Jones will probably be the play of his quarterbacks. After having the luxury of an experienced, highly capable high school quarterback last season in now-graduated Jacob Morgan, Jones will now have one of two young, inexperienced quarterbacks attempting to get him the football. As a result, the downfield passes may not be available due to arm strength issues and Jones will likely make his living this fall as he did in the spring game -- on short passes like hitches and crossing routes, as well as screens. Instead of having cornerbacks play off in coverage respecting his ability to run past them, teams may begin to play in press coverage to make the hitches more difficult to complete.

Don't be surprised, then, if Jones doesn't put up the same numbers he did as a sophomore, much as Darius White's numbers dropped as a senior due to inconsistent play at the quarterback position. The big receiver will likely spend much of the season as he did the spring game -- open deep futilely waving his hand to catch his quarterback's attention. However, Jones will still be extremely dangerous on crossing routes, as he will probably not face a linebacker all season with the speed to stay with him across the middle.

Judging from the spring game, there's no reason to doubt all the hype surrounding Jones -- his transcendent talent flashed on his pivot to the outside, stiff arm and race down the sidelines and then on the spectacular one-handed catch, as well as his devastating hit while playing safety. The best news for Texas fans is that the Longhorns are near the top of his list and already possess a connection to those Cowboy teams with Tre' Newton already on campus and Jackson Jeffcoat set to join him in a matter of days. And the news that Jones sports Longhorn garb at Austin High and is often seen throwing his Horns up is just another positive.

2012 Austin High WR Cayleb Jones @ 2010 Spring Game (via ghostofbigroy)