Jones tackling culture

Posted: 5:40 a.m.

It turns out that Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones is going to make a tackle in the playoffs.

Not to mention a block. And maybe even a catch.

Never mind that it will be Saturday instead of Sunday and it will be in England instead of in Arizona and it will be rugby instead of football.

It is the playoffs after what is being billed by the English press as a crash course at practice this week.

Blackheath, the world's oldest open rugby club in its 150th season, against Launceston in the EDF Cup. And Blackheath coach Harvey Biljon says Jones will get about 10 minutes at flanker.

"Flanker is pretty similar to linebacker," Jones said Thursday night from across the pond. "I'll come back a better tackler and a better person. That's the idea. To meet more people, experience the culture and break down stereotypes."

Jones, who sounds like he's coming back to Cincinnati this year instead of going on the market, has always been sold on trying new things. The man who writes poetry, plays the saxophone, and took a class from Al Gore is now immersing himself in the royalty of English sport.

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Jones

Jones is the kind of guy that when he sees something that intrigues him, he stops to try on the clothes instead of just pulling them off the rack.

"They have been so gracious in reaching out to me," Jones said. "The game of rugby is based on respect and honor, and it's ingrained in the culture. They love each other and they are a part of each other."

Jones made the trip with the Travel Channel and the segment is going to be aired at a time to be announced. But that didn't help when he first walked into a locker room getting ready for the playoffs.

"It was just like being a rookie again," said Jones, who turns 30 this month. "They were looking at me like, 'Who is this guy and what can he do for us?' But we're learning from each other."

One of Jones' mentors is a guy he calls an all-time rugby great, Austin Healey, 34, who just retired this past year. Another is Hall of Famer Martin Johnson.

Think Lawrence Taylor and Junior Seau stopping by for a few days to try a few pointers on the pass rush. Healy racked up more than 50 games for the English national team with a competitive outspokenness that earned him the nickname "The Leicester Lip."

"He's taught me some incredible moves with my body to make tackles," Jones said. "How to use the body with different forms of leverage. I think I'm able to show them some things, too, as far as taking angles and making calls during a game."

Brits are supposed to be cold. Americans are supposed to be aloof with no desire to get to know anyone who is different. These are just some stereotypes Jones enjoys debunking.

"Our players thought it would be fantastic to have a full-time athlete from a top American sport testing himself among our amateurs," Coach Biljon told The Daily Telegraph.

There has been no fooling around this week. Biljon might not know exactly what position Jones plays in Cincinnati. But he knows what he has to work on.

"Because Dhani is a defensive lineman, his catching and passing are the things we need to work on," Biljon told the newspaper. "All being well, he will come on the field as a flanker. I don't think it will make much difference whether it's blind side or open side. We just have to make sure that when he hits someone it is an opponent who has got the ball and that he's not running an illegal blocking move."

Jones will be protected. But not like here. He'll have a soft shell helmet without a facemask, as well as small and light shoulder pads. He'll also have pads for his quads and thighs.

But he's not worried about getting hurt.

"You can't be," Jones said. "It's like some guys who train by fighting or boxing, or playing basketball. You're training your body and there shouldn't be any kind of restrictions on that."

And there is no one who takes care of his body like Jones. If his Bengals teammates are still kicking back, Jones is running 15 200-yard dashes in under 35 seconds with his adopted mates.

"The conditioning is fantastic. It's very grueling," said Jones, who brought along help. "I always take a personal trainer if I go on a long trip like this one. We're up at six in the morning and I'm on the table for massaging and stretching until we hit breakfast at 7:30."

But Jones is doing this as much for his spirit as he is for his body. He's trying to understand a culture and then come back and communicate it with his signature passion.

"I wish I could bring more people over to see how we hit the bags and what we do to create more power in tackling, and what a guy like Austin Healey is taking the time to show me," Jones said. "It transcends sports. It's getting to know a different people and a different culture and being able to learn from it and make you a better person."

It sounds like he'll be doing that here. He's scheduled to become a free agent, but indications are he's close to a deal that would be done before the market opens next month.

"You never know in this business," Jones said. "But I obviously have a great relationship with that team. They've done some great things for me and I hope it's something we can keep going."

Fleet Street loves him, too.

"If the gridiron star gets the taste it might be the start of a beautiful relationship between the club and the Bengals," The Telegraph said.

The problem is, there is no free substitution in rugby. Jones says it's not like football. Players hardy ever come out. So when he gets his 10 minutes of fame, someone else is going to the bench.

"I don't know when," Jones said. "You have to be ready because you could be called at any time."

Maybe it isn't all that different.

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