Everywhere Defensive Back Has Cleveland Where It Wants To Be
Dominic Jones was going to be in the ArenaBowl no matter what, apparently With Orlando, his former team. With Cleveland, his current team. Both of whom played August 10 for an ArenaBowl berth. But Cleveland wasn’t going to be. Not without Jones.
It's 35-28 with Cleveland holding a slim edge over Orlando. The Gladiators long-time veteran and steady hand, Dominick Goodman has fumbled, putting their lead and ArenaBowl berth in peril. The Predators are perched at first and goal, yards away from a tie game. On first down, Jones gets a hand in the receiver's grill on a ball thrown into the end zone. On second down, the receiver stumbles as he tries to get by Jones. On fourth, quarterback Bernard Morris fires a short out, but Jones is tethered to the receiver and knocks the ball away.
Jones placed eighth in the Arena Football League with 93.5 tackles. Amazingly enough, that was third on his own team. LaRoche Jackson placed second. Marrio Norman placed sixth.
Norman tied for second in the League with 12 interceptions. He's off in the National Football League now.
Jones had just four. But he had 27 pass breakups. Many of them with his arms outstretched. Diving into the turf. Coming out of nowhere. And he compiled countless hard, jarring hits.
"We can cover," Jones said. "Not only can we hit you, but we can cover too."
The leader of Cleveland's defense? I’d give my vote to Jones.
His hard-hitting set a different tone. With the way he jarred balls free, the middle was no longer safe in Cleveland. And that makes a difference, draws an offense out of sync, is the magic formula that somehow turns one of the League's worst defenses into one of its best.
Cleveland hasn't won a postseason game since 2008. The Gladiators have taken a 15-12 halftime lead on perennial power Philadelphia. The two-time defending conference champions sit eight yards from a score - and perhaps restoring order. On fourth and six, Dan Raudabaugh looks like he might have a completion to the sideline. Until Dominic Jones flips in front of Tiger Jones, one of the game's best wideouts, and deflects it away. On another foray into the red zone, Philadelphia dials up Derrick Ross, the history-making running back. Jones wraps him up for a loss. Then secures a pass breakup. Philadelphia doesn't score.
With Norman gone, Jones has done what a leader does.
"Everybody has to elevate their game a little bit," Jones said.
Against Philadelphia, he led all players with 10.5 tackles and tied for the lead with four pass breakups.
Soul defensive back Rayshaun Kizer may have seized the spotlight with four picks, but Jones was effective in his own right.
"This is one of the games that really showed that (we can cover)," Jones said. "We don't really get a lot of opportunities to make big hits, but we were still there, knocking balls down, intercepting balls, showing the ball skills."
Against Orlando, he led all players with 9.5 tackles and three pass breakups.
"I had a good beat on it the whole night," Jones said. "I got my hand on a couple of balls."
Frequently against the in-motion man, the top advantage Arena Football offers the offense.
"I put a lot of onus on myself to guard their best players and their motions," Jones said.
In short, Dominic Jones enters Arena Football's biggest stage playing his best football.
And because of him, that stage is in Cleveland.
The Gladiators possess a slim lead as halftime approaches in the American Conference title game. Bernard Morris finds Michael Rios for a big play. Rios darts dangerously along the right sideline. It's just him and Jones now. Jones stands one wrong step from a tie ballgame. Jones cuts off Rios' angle, gets him to pause and then goes after him. Is it for naught? No. On third and goal, Morris fumbles. Jones smoothly picks it off the carpet and there's that electrifying speed. Off he runs, nearly the length of the field. He's brought down a yard shy of pay dirt.
Now, in a different sense, he and his teammates are one goal-line plunge away.