From ET to elder

Posted: 9:10 p.m.

When Dhani Jones played for the Eagles, you saw him conduct the Philadelphia Pops through the "The Liberty Bell March," as well as judge the Miss Philadelphia Pageant.

But it is in Cincinnati he has found his independence in finding the beauty of perception meeting in reality. When he plays against his old team Sunday as the Bengals middle linebacker, he does it as a 30-year-old journeyman who has gone from Entertainment Tonight to elder for an emerging young defense that has kept this team from falling into the BCS rankings.

Jones knows the rep he had in Philly before the Eagles cut him after the 2006 season.

As interested in conducting the Pops as delivering pops.

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Jones

Mike Zimmer, his defensive coordinator, admitted after Thursday's practice that he hadn't heard good things about Jones down in Dallas but he has ended up coaching a different guy.

"I havent noticed it," Zimmer said of DhaniVision. "Football is very important to him. It seems it to me. He plays real hard and loves the game. And he's a good kid. I think he's been a good guy for us."

Jones is not a kid on this defense. He and defensive tackle John Thornton are the only players with more than five years experience and he's helping kids like rookie WILL backer Keith Rivers. When Rivers broke his jaw last month against the Steelers and needed surgery, Jones stayed with him for a few days to make sure he had what he needed.

"I live by myself so he wanted to make sure I was OK," Rivers said. "I have much respect for him. Much respect. It's a blessing to me that he's here. When I got here (in the spring), he started watching film with me and he never stopped."

Even before Rivers met Jones, he was told he would find a partner with whom he could walk to a different drummer. Rivers calls himself "weird," and Jones "even weirder," simply because they don't see themselves as typical NFL linebackers. Rivers likes 1980s music (he's listening to Santogold these days) and his old USC teammate, Bengals defensive tackle Frostee Rucker says, "He doesn't wear his jeans low. He wears them like they did in the '80s."

If Jones has eclectic tastes, he also has tasted success and that means hard work in any profession. He tests the patience of the training staff because he's always the last guy out of the pool (in this case the cold tub) at the end of the day, and he is a regular a couple of nights a week at Paul Brown Stadium watching video on the movie screen of the team room to jazz, R&B, classical or whatever else strikes the fancy of the seasoned saxophonist to send out of the speakers.

On Thursday, Brandon Johnson, Rivers' replacement now that he's on injured reserve, approached Jones's locker and asked if he was staying late to watch film.

"Tomorrow," Jones said of a Friday afternoon the players have off every week. "Tomorrow. And I'll bring my helicopter."

There is no Christmas appointment with the Cincinnati Symphony and no guest stint with NFL Network. But he has been quietly tinkering with model airplanes and helicopters and has been known to show a teammate how to fly them by remote control with a plane he's got in his locker.

"It keeps my stress levels low," he said. "Every year, it depends on how I feel during the season; I have some sort of hobby that allows me time to get away. This year it's helicopters and airplanes. It helps. It's like a little vacation."

But there haven't been many off days since the Eagles and then the Saints cut him in the '07 offseason and the injury-riddled Bengals picked him up early in a season they didn't have one linebacker because of an NFL suspension (Odell Thurman), two due to offseason injury (David Pollack, Rashad Jeanty), one because of a season-ending injury (Eric Henderson) and another due to a game injury (Caleb Miller).

Since then Jones has started at all three linebacker spots and this season became Marvin Lewis' sixth Opening Day middle linebacker on his sixth Opening Day and is third among AFC middle backers with a team-leading 89 tackles.

While critics point to the Bengals resorting to a recycled NFC veteran, Jones's backers say he's given the most ballast in the Lewis regime to the defense's key position. He may not be an Odell Thurman playmaker with Brian Simmons speed, but he provides brains, experience and reliability at a position that has had a stunning lack of continuity.

And Jones has clearly felt the appreciation.

"Football has always been my focal point, but it's never been perceived that way," he said. "When you find a team that understands you as a person, your level of commitment is recognized instead of questioned."

Coming off the practice field, Jones overheard Zimmer talking about "the one-question rule." Because Jones' nature is to question everything, "I told him he can only ask one question a day," Zimmer said.

Jones walked by and offered, "I'm better with my questions now. I decided to understand a lot of where he was coming from so I can ask an intelligent question that he has to respond to," and Zimmer nodded.

"We've learned how to communicate," Zimmer said.

And Jones enjoys communicating it to others in the middle. He had the same progression during college at Michigan: WILL, SAM, and now MIKE.

"I like having a lot of pressure on my shoulders. It means you can't make many mistakes," Jones said. "You need to devote a little more time and energy because you're held a little more accountable. Everybody is held accountable. But if you're the quarterback, you've got to know what everybody does. On the offensive line and the wide receivers. The same thing on defense. You've got to know what the defensive line is doing as well as every corner and every safety. You always have to be thinking, and how you can help the other guys to get better."

All of this may surprise the good folks in Philly and Jones admits it's a mix of maturation and perception. He says he has been out in the community helping kids and appearing at events, but there's just not as much attention as there is in New York with the Giants and in Philly.

"I do my share of things in the offseason," said Jones, who played rugby in England and hurling in Ireland this year. "I like to say I live in California and work in Cincinnati. This market is a little different, but you see guys get attention.

"Chinedum (Ndukwe) is out there with his picture up on the scoreboard. Everyone knows Shayne Graham across the board. Leon Hall is on the billboards. So is Carson Palmer. You can be visible on any team you're on. I've done things around here, but it's a different atmosphere. In New York or Philly you've got about 80 (media people) in the locker room. Here it's five guys."

Jones doesn't mind playing what he calls "keeping it mellow." In Philadelphia, he was halfway to getting his pilot's license. He's still trying to find time to get over to Cincinnati's Lunken Airport to finish it off. Meanwhile, he's looking forward to taking off against the Eagles on Sunday.

"You always get excited about playing a team you used to play for," said Jones, preferring to keep it on the down low.

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