Rookie Jones adjusting on the fly

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Datone Jones bolted off the turf with his arms flailing, leg kicking and head bobbing.

He stakes claim to this spasmodic dance. On Sundays, Lambeau Field is church to Jones. He's “catching the holy ghost.”

“It's all emotion,” Jones said. “You can't just re-enact the dance. You have to feel it. You're catching the holy ghost.”

“I felt the football gods came down on me and took over my body.”

And with Jones, the football gods took the first half of the season off. His career didn't start the way he envisioned.

An ankle injury suffered in the preseason opener lingered. He relied too much on pure athleticism, speed. He was a split-second delayed with his technique. So for two months, the team's first-round pick was mostly invisible. Jones didn't get his first sack until Nov. 4. But then he followed that take-down with two sacks in Green Bay's 27-13 loss to Philadelphia.

For all the talk about UCLA's scheme being tailor-made for Dom Capers' 3-4 defense before the season, Jones says he's being asked to do certain things in the pros he never was in college.

Maybe now the real Datone Jones will stand up.

“For me, it's just learning from these older guys,” Jones said. “Guys like C.J. (Wilson) have been on me. B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett, every day, they've seen early in camp that I'm pretty good pass rushing. There's a lot of simple things. I was trying to beat guys with my speed. I wasn't taking the proper steps.”

On the first sack last Sunday, Jones knows he caught a break. For whatever reason, Nick Foles jumped on his scramble left, which bought the end some time to wrap him up at the ankles. The second sack was a play you expect from a first-round pick. Jones wasted left tackle Jason Peters and—this time—he finished with violence.

Motivation comes from the classroom. The entire defensive line watches film of each sack that given week in the NFL. Cornerbacks, edge rushers, it doesn't matter. This 15-minute montage provided instant, weekly fuel for a player who had one tackle and no sacks his first seven games.

He says it's like watching a movie. Jones marveled at different pass-rush moves, different ways to take a quarterback.

“It's intense,” Jones said. “You know who's getting sacks and who's not. So you're trying to be competitive at the same time. You can look at this guy and say, 'OK, we play them in three weeks.' You see guys get beat.”

One player Jones has admired is Cincinnati's Geno Atkins. Before suffering his season-ending knee injury, Atkins was surgical with his 3-technique in the Bengals' dime package.

Grasping such fundamentals has been a process for Jones. At 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, he may be cut like a Greek god. He may run a 4.80 in the 40-yard dash. Jones wasn't going to stick until he perfected his footwork.

At one point, Wilson—rendered more teacher than player these days—says he told Jones, “It's not all about speed. I don't care how fast you are.” The all-brawn pass-rushing moves that worked for Jones at UCLA won't always work in the pros.

“It's mostly about steps, being precise, everything,” Wilson said. “It's technique. So I've seen him develop. A lot of guys give him pointers. Coach (Mike) Trgovac does a great job with him. I saw him today and thought, 'Wow, he's really coming into his own.' Once you get the precise steps, you can get faster.”

Defensive end Ryan Pickett doesn't believe Jones' hurdle was all technique. He points to the high ankle sprain. Jones has repeated several times that the ankle is a non-issue. In reality, Pickett believes the flat tire bothered Jones. He sprained his ankle in October 2010.

Ankle injuries are different for 300-pound men paid to shove other 300-pound men around.

“You're going to have to play, but you might not be as good as you think. Your body's just not right with one of those. It can linger for a while. Ankles are required to do a lot. So I definitely think him getting healthy, confident and working his technique; he's definitely just growing leaps and bounds.”

Now the Packers need to see more. As always, a caving pocket cures problems elsewhere. In a flash, coach Mike McCarthy saw Jones' potential. Shortly after the loss, he was blunt.

“He's got ability, he does some things well,” McCarthy said then, “but he needs to be more consistent Monday through Saturday and I think it will help him on Sunday.”

McCarthy was pleased with Jones' game but added “we need more.”

Jones' pass-rushing partner, Mike Daniels, will continue to draw attention. He's the one who's done it all season. Now the Packers are banking on more “holy ghost” outbursts from their first-rounder.

“I'm being put in better situations,” Jones said. “Not saying I wasn't put in before but now, certain plays are starting to present themselves to me. Now they're keying on other guys and they forgot about me.

“You still have to account for me.”

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