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T Dawand Jones' journey from sliding in the draft to rising NFL player

Jones lost three family members from late March to right before the NFL draft in April

Offensive tackle Dawand Jones (79) before a NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts on October 22, 2023 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Browns won 39-38.
Offensive tackle Dawand Jones (79) before a NFL football game between the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts on October 22, 2023 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Browns won 39-38.

When teammates of T Dawand Jones think about his personality, they would say he's entertaining and always makes them laugh. But on the field, it's all business for the rookie out of The Ohio State University, who is on a mission to prove his doubters wrong after falling in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Jones is performing well in his first season with the Browns. He is growing stronger each passing week and is gradually establishing himself as a top rookie offensive lineman in the NFL, playing 712 snaps and with only two penalties. At 6-foot-8 and 375 pounds, Jones has demonstrated his ability to utilize his size effectively. He has only allowed three sacks this season.

For Jones, his journey to the big stage came with hurdles. It all started his sophomore year at Ben Davis High School in Indiana when his football coach Mike Kirschner told him he wanted Jones to play left tackle.

"I wanted to hit people," Jones said. "I always wanted to be a defensive tackle, but my coach said I stand straight up way too much. He said I can do the same thing just on the offensive side of the ball."

Jones listened to Kirschner and started watching tapes on former Eagles LT Jason Peters and current Eagles OT Lane Johnson in his sophomore year. By his junior year, he was starting at left tackle. Then by senior year, he was receiving offers from colleges.

He was labeled a project by scouts going into college due to his film not being feasible at the next level. He ended up being rated a three-star prospect. Jones committed to The Ohio State University in Feb. 2019, ultimately choosing OSU over Penn State and USC. He first received a scholarship offer in Nov. 2018 and visited in Jan. 2019.

In his senior season at Ohio State, Jones did not allow a sack in 700 or more snaps during 2022, making him one of only five players in his position to do so. His success earned him the All-Big Ten second team and first-team All-American as he helped block for the country's second-most productive scoring offense. He entered the NFL draft after being noted as a top offensive tackle by ESPN.

"It was time for me to enter the NFL draft, and I was projected to go first or no later than second round," Jones said. "But that didn't happen because teams passed on me."

During the draft process in March, Jones went through multiple heartbreaks. Jones lost three family members in a month. He attended three funerals from the end of March to right before draft day on April 27. Then in the middle of June, another family member of his died. 

He had three uncles – Chris, Buster and Doug  – who passed away for a variety of reasons, from alcoholism to drug abuse, Jones said.

Jones said the death that hurt him the most was when his cousin Christy died from breast cancer a week before the draft. Jones said he was heartbroken when he was drafted because he wanted Christy to see him walk the stage in New York and put his NFL team hat on.

"I wore cleats this past weekend for her," Jones said on Oct. 26.  "I wrote the quote she used to always say to me. She knew that I wanted to go pro and always supported my dreams of being on the big stage. I loved her so much. She would always tell me from a young age that I was special and was going to the league."

During the draft process, Jones was not training due to attending multiple funerals and was struggling with the recent deaths of his family members. He didn't want to be around others except his family during that time. However, he had obligations at the time to talk to the media and do interviews with potential NFL teams who were interested in drafting him. 

"I only told the Bengals and the Eagles on what I was enduring that time," Jones said. "I did lose weight, but it was bound to happen with everything I was going through. I thought one of those two teams would draft me definitely, but they passed on me because I wasn't in shape during interviews."

Yet, his NFL dream was not lost. The Browns drafted Jones with the No. 111 pick in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. 

Jones arrived at Browns training camp in Greenbrier and struggled early, having to stop DE Myles Garrett and the new Browns defensive front in practices. Yet, he started making improvements in the preseason. Jones played 148 pass-blocking snaps over the course of three games and didn't allow a sack. It was the most snaps played without allowing a sack in the preseason.

With the season-ending injury to RT Jack Conklin in Week 1, Jones earned his first start in Week 2 and never looked back. 

Jones has emerged as the best performer among the four rookie tackles who have played at least 500 snaps this season. He has allowed the least number of sacks and the least number of penalties. In Week 7 against the Colts, Jones let just one QB pressure through and was awarded an 82.9 run block grade, marking his highest of the season. 

In Week 11 against the Steelers, Jones went head-to-head with LB T.J. Watt and got the best of him. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones went against Watt 19 times and allowed no sacks and allowed no pressures. Jones' teammates have loved his development as a player throughout the season.

"He practices so hard," C Ethan Pocic said. "I saw him grow every day. He is doing a great job and is open for criticism."

He has flourished under the guidance of OL coach Bill Callahan, who has successfully developed numerous high-quality tackles over his four-decade-long coaching career. His fellow offensive linemen have taken notice. 

"Dawand has completely taken to what coach Callahan has taught him," G Michael Dunn said. "He wants to become a great player and he has been improving every week. It's impressive to see how quickly he learned and got adjusted."

OL assistant coach Scott Peters has seen Jones grow through the early weeks of his rookie season and understands how he can be successful in the NFL. Peters said that Jones has the physical attributes, but it's the repetitions that have benefited him the most in the past eight weeks of the regular season. 

"He sees things better now and just getting more experience has been positive for him," Peters said. "Being consistent is the biggest issue we've been working through, and I think we've seen some positive gains there, too."

Jones will look to keep his consistency going and continue to play well for his teammates. He says he is enjoying Cleveland. He likes going to Lake Erie with his tortoise. He is appreciating the early part of his career and is excited for his future with the Browns.

2023 My Cause My Cleats Photoshoot - Offensive tackle Dawand Jones (79) - Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Jones found a way to honor his late cousin once again during Week 13 when the Browns faced the Rams. Jones had a pair of cleats painted bright that featured the name of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation on the side for the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign. 

"I am still dealing with losing my cousin to this day," Jones said. "Her death hit our family hard. She was such a great person. I think about her every day."

Jones has battled through adversity and dealt with grief this year, but he's shown what he can contribute to the Browns offensive line.

"I am very appreciative of Berry because he took a chance on me after everyone passed on me based on my performance during Pro Day," Jones said. "I see him every day and dap him up. Now, it's just time to get better and better. I am used to getting more and more accustomed to the NFL speed. I am ready for whatever challenges."

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