Jones wants job back after shoulder injury
After a season-ending injury to Brad Jones, the Packers found a pair of unheralded replacements to start opposite Clay Matthews: Frank Zombo, an undrafted free agent rookie out of Central Michigan, and midseason pickup Erik Walden, who had been released by the Miami Dolphins.
Walden and Zombo are back as the Packers get into the meat of training camp this week. So is Jones, who has fully recovered from his shoulder injury and is preparing to make a push to reclaim the starting job.
Jones said he was humbled by his time away from the game.
“I mean, every guy thinks they’re Superman,” Jones said Monday. “You’ve kind of got to have that mentality when you’re in the National Football League, that you’re invincible. And it humbles you a little bit that this literally could be taken away from you at any time. Anything can be taken away from you at any time. I think I found a deeper respect for the game, especially when it just literally gets ripped away from you.”
Repeating what has become a popular refrain in the Packers’ locker room in the first few days of training camp, Jones said the energy and hunger of several Packers players coming off injured reserve will be more than enough to help the Super Bowl champions fight off any sense of complacency this season.
“Guys coming off IR will kind of counterbalance the complacency a bit,” Jones said. “I’ve never won a Super Bowl, obviously, but the complacency that it seems like some teams have had after winning Super Bowls. I don’t see any complacency at all around here. But I think the IR guys have zero complacency because they’ve been out of it for so long.”
A seventh-round draft pick out of Colorado, Jones started seven games as a rookie after a season-ending knee injury to Aaron Kampman. He finished that season with four sacks in seven starts, and appeared to be a likely starter going into 2010 after the Packers let Kampman leave as a free agent and didn’t make a major move to replace him.
But Jones hurt his right shoulder during a late August practice and opened the season trying to play in a harness. He missed one game with a knee injury, then aggravated his shoulder against Minnesota Oct. 24—a game in which his pressure on Brett Favre forced a critical interception. The Packers placed him on injured reserve three days later.
“It’s rough,” Jones said. “I don’t think people quite know how rough it is to go on IR. It’s tougher than you think, for somebody who really, really, loves the game and loves to play it—like really loves it, thoroughly enjoys it. It’s hard to just go on IR and not be able to participate in anything. It’s rough. It makes you bounce back, I think.”
Zombo filled in and played surprisingly well before he hurt his knee against Detroit on Dec. 12. Then came Walden, who looked nothing like a street free agent—especially when he had three sacks in the Packers’ must-win regular season finale against Chicago.
Jones said he didn’t have any kind of sour taste watching the team go on to win the Super Bowl.
“I was happy for the team,” Jones said. “I’m still part of the team. I was happy, regardless.”
Jones said he leaned on fellow injured players Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett to get through his injury and rehabilitation—so it was particularly tough on Jones when both of his buddies were cut this week.
“It was nice to have somebody to bounce stuff off of,” Jones said. “Both of them are gone now, which (stinks). It’s sad. It’s sad because my locker literally (was next to theirs). Your locker mates, and such good guys, leave. But, I mean, it’s a process.”
That’s the process of football. Every year, guys get cut. I don’t think I’ve had the same people sitting next to me in meetings any year. So it happens, it’s all good. We’ll still be good friends.”
The Packers’ moves could have another effect on Jones. Given the relative lack of depth at inside linebacker, it’s possible that coaches could ask Jones to take some snaps inside. Jones said he played some inside linebacker in college but hasn’t done so for the Packers.
“I’ll do whatever they say,” Jones said. “Corner, quarterback, snapper. I can do pretty much it all.”
But Jones prefers to play outside linebacker, and expects to challenge Walden and Zombo for the role.
“It’s a competition,” Jones said. “I think it’s going to be rotated and whoever does the best job (will start).”