Taiwan Jones is saying all of the right things, but it's not what he's saying so much as how he's saying it that makes it so convincing at this stage of spring drills.

Jones, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, has the physical tools to be better than the great collegiate middle linebacker he's trying to replace -- the former face of the Michigan State program, Max Bullough.

But does anyone dare believe that Jones can have the presence of Bullough — the leadership, the intangibles and the ability to rally the group of 10 defenders around him for 60 minutes each fall Saturday afternoon?

Bullough, after all, was a college player three generations in the making who knew nothing less than complete effort from the first time he hit the gridiron. When you're a Bullough at Michigan State, there is no other way.

Linebackers coach Mike Tressel knows he has a tall task on his hands retooling the linebacker corps, and it starts with Jones in the middle.

Darien Harris and Ed Davis have less playing experience than Jones, and yet there seems to be more confidence knowing they'll bring it at the outside linebacker positions.

Even if the athletically gifted Jones proves he has the mindset to handle the middle linebacker duties -- the "Mike" -- after playing outside linebacker his first three years, it will mean the Spartans' corps will have a completely different look.

Like Jones, Tressel isn't backing away from the challenge and has essentially thrown down the gauntlet.

"The linebackers need to understand their goal is to be better than the last group,'' Tressel said, "and that's not going to be easy.''

Ask Jones how he plans to go about it, and he'll give the answer the coaches have been waiting to hear from him for three years.

"Study, watch film, those are the big two, and be a leader,'' Jones said. "I think I like the challenge, and I think it's because I feel more comfortable inside because I've been playing it my whole life.

"I'm here, I'm happy, and I'm ready to take on the leadership just to prove to my guys they can trust me and listen to me, and I'll never steer them wrong.''

Jones can start by fulfilling his vast potential, which has been a blessing and a burden for him all at once.

Jones has been a solid contributor, but the flashes of greatness he has shown from time to time make it clear he has much more to give.

That makes Jones an underachiever, and as coach Mark Dantonio will quickly tell anyone willing to look into his icy glare, that is not the Spartan way.

The friendly, likable Jones has admitted as much. But it truly didn't hit home for him until he heard it from a former player he holds in high regard -- Denicos Allen.

"Yeah, he did get on me,'' Jones said. "That challenged me. Denicos is like a big brother to me, and he keeps it real with me and lets me know what I need to do.''