- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Michigan State’s All-American linebacker Greg Jones is glad he put his dreams of playing in the NFL on hold.

“The real world hasn’t kicked in yet,” Jones said Tuesday. “I’m so happy to be back.”

The Spartans are pretty fired up about it, too.

They’ll need the Jones-led defense to play much better than it did last year, especially against the pass, to complement what seems to be a solid offense to have any hope of reaching their goal of winning the Big Ten title for the first time in two decades.

“He’s special,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

The Cincinnati native was the only Big Ten player to be picked as a first-team All-American by The Associated Press last year, then decided to stay in school instead of cashing in as a second- or third-round pick in the NFL draft.

“It was the biggest decision of my life,” he said. “And, I don’t have any regrets.”

Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit wishes Jones was gone so he didn’t have to figure out a way to block him Saturday at Spartan Stadium in the season opener for both teams.

“They’ve got the best linebacker in the country, and one of the better ones I’ve seen in my career,” Cubit said. “He’s just relentless. Pass-rushing wise, he’s outstanding. He’s always trying to get to the football. He’s a scary guy and a big problem.”

Dantonio said the only linebacker he’s seen up close as good as Jones was former Ohio State star Chris Spielman, adding he has been encouraged by his quest to keep improving.

“He’s added almost 15 pounds of good solid weight and he’s much improved in pass coverage,” Dantonio said. “As a pass rusher, he’s pretty good.”

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Jones, whose talents are touted at the website gregjones53.com that was set up by the school, has 15 1/2 sacks in three seasons. Sacking quarterbacks is fun, he admits, but he wants to knock down more of their passes and make an interception for the first time in his career.

“It’s very important because you have to be versatile to be a great player,” Jones said. “People think I like to blitz all the time, but I want to do more than that.”

If Jones can become an all-around great on the field this fall, he might live up to the billing of being perhaps the best defensive player in the country and one of Michigan State’s best linebackers along with Percy Snow, Carl Banks and Dan Bass.

“It’s a huge compliment when somebody says that _ it’s also humbling,” he said. “But you can’t say you’ve made it or that you’ve arrived, though, because if you get complacent you get worse.”