Defensive end Datone Jones looks to bounce back for Packers

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By Tyler Dunne
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, July 6, 2014

GREEN BAY--Snaps became precious for Datone Jones as a rookie. By Week 16, his rations dwindled to four snaps. In Week 17? Five.

Not what you expect out of a first-round pick. Surely not what Jones expected.

“Two snaps per game, 13 percent percent of the snaps on the year,” said Jones, not exaggerating that much. “That's what you get, 3 sacks in a season. Playing more, who knows what could happen?”

Those picked after the Green Bay Packers defensive end at 26th overall in the 2013 draft did, in fact, play. Houston's DeAndre Hopkins (27th) caught 52 passes for 802 yards. St. Louis' Alec Ogletree (30th) had 117 tackles and six forced fumbles. Center Travis Frederick (31st) out of Wisconsin was a rock in Dallas, starting all season. Safeties Matt Elam (32nd) and Johnathan Cyprien (33rd) are full-time starters.

Jones sat. He waited. He watched on as fifth-rounder Josh Boyd took his playing time.

Say this about Jones: He's confident.

His confidence didn't waver then, and it won't now. The way Jones sees it, he made his jump at UCLA in Year 2 and he'll do the same here. A mountain of expectations isn't new.

“There's a lot of expectations,” said Jones, who actually played about one-fourth of the total defensive snaps. “When I was coming into college, I was one of the highest picks in the nation,” Jones said. “When I was coming into the NFL, I was one of the highest picks. So for me, I'm not here to impress the fans. I'm here to win games with my brothers in this locker room.”

True, out of Compton, California, Jones was a four-star recruit. He had offers from Notre Dame, Oregon, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Nebraska. Much was expected. In his freshman year, Jones had only 15 tackles (zero for loss) and two starts in 10 games.

Then, in 2009, he says, “it clicked.” Jones broke out for 11 tackles for loss and four sacks.

“That's why I'm working really hard to start this year,” Jones said. “If I play more, those opportunities will come.”

Green Bay might plug the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Jones in next to Mike Daniels on passing downs. They worked in tandem during the spring.

As a rookie, Jones never ran with this role. One reason was the sprained ankle he suffered in the exhibition opener. Before that, he was often dominant in 1-on-1 drills. Still, Jones wouldn't use the popped tire as an excuse. He knows he struggled disengaging from blocks.

This year, Jones plans on attacking with his hands better and developing a second move.

He has the athleticism. At Cincinnati, Jones blocked an extra point. When injuries struck in the Wild Card loss to San Francisco, he even stepped back as an outside linebacker.

The trick for this former basketball point guard—the one who used to hoop with Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan—is channeling his athletic gifts.

His technique needed work. Hence, the jump he fully expects to make.

“Ultimately, I want to start—establish myself as the starter,” Jones said. “And after that, do whatever it takes to help the team win games. That's all I'm about. Not trying to do anything too big. But if I help the team, I'm producing.”

One sack specifically—a bull rush takedown of Philadelphia's Jason Peters—gives Jones the belief he'll be great.

“I have a lot to build on this year,” Jones said. “I tasted blood already. … That's who I am. I didn't do anything out of the ordinary. On that play, I did what I did in practice every day. Luckily, it worked. That's an all-pro guy.”

This time of year, we hear the virtues of rookies “playing fast” ad nauseam. Jones dismisses the notion that he didn't “play fast” in 2013.

If anything, he may have played too fast, relied on too much finesse. In Year 2, he wants to play with more power.

With the exception of a few trips home, Jones trained in Green Bay throughout the offseason.

“I won't be satisfied until I'm the best in the league,” Jones said. “That's the only way I'd be satisfied. Other than that, I still won't be satisfied until I retire. No matter what year I have next year or the years to come, I don't think I'll ever be satisfied.

“Even if I have a great all-pro year, I still won't be satisfied. I want to get better.”

The Packers don't necessarily need an all-pro year. At one point this spring, Jones said he didn't burst onto the scene with 30 sacks “like everybody expected.” Green Bay doesn't need that, either.

However, more will be demanded in 2014. Much more.

Walking out of the locker room after the final minicamp practice, Jones turned back for one more comment.

“I'm just hungry to win games,” Jones said. “Put that in your paper.”

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