GREEN BAY – One thing Aaron Rodgers doesn’t do is say things he hasn’t thought through first.
Ever since his first day in town in 2005, when an ESPN reporter asked the then-rookie first-round pick what he thought of veteran Brett Favre not attending the post-draft minicamp – “Lazy,” a smiling Rodgers replied in an ill-advised attempt at humor – Rodgers hasn’t really hasn’t put his foot in his mouth since. (Although it’s possible his #exonerated Tweets in February 2012 after his friend, Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun, had his 50-game suspension overturned, may prove to have been overzealous.)
Thus, when the Green Bay Packers quarterback began to rave last month about what he’d seen from first-round draft pick Datone Jones, it was more than just a team leader praising one of the new guys. Since he’s not one for hyperbole, it was clear that the rookie from UCLA had made a strong first impression on Rodgers.
“I look at a guy like Datone Jones. I mean, he’s a man out there,” Rodgers said. “I’ve tried to wait to see with some of these guys. Because we’ve seen guys in the past look great in shorts, and struggle in pads. I’m very confident that guys like Datone Jones are going to look even better in pads. He’s had a great spring, he’s been everything we were hoping for, I think, and that’s an exciting guy.”
Rodgers isn’t the only one excited about what the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Jones brings to his new team. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac – someone who is predisposed to getting excited – sounded almost giddy about Jones last month, when the offseason organized team activity practices and minicamp wrapped.
“He’s very quick, he’s fast, he’s got some very good explosion, but he’s also got some strength, too,” said Trgovac. “This position, we’re not always going to be the guys jetting off the ball. So he’s going to add a good element to us, and I think he’ll grow in the position and size-wise, body-wise I think he’ll grow into it. And, he’ll have some good guys that he’ll be able to learn from. But I think he adds some athleticism to us.”
According to Trgovac, Jones will complement a group of would-be pass-rushers to give him a smorgasbord of possibilities in sub packages. Capers sounded downright mad scientist-like when ticking off his list.
“You look at some of the groups that we have, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with them,” Trgovac said. “You’ve got Mike Neal, Clay (Matthews), Nick Perry, Datone, B.J. (Raji), Mike Daniels, Jerel (Worthy) – there’s so many athletic guys up there that are going to be fighting for that position of best pass rusher. Right now, who knows what’s going to happen? Your young guys, I’m trying to teach them the basis of what we do. So Tone and (fourth-round defensive lineman) Josh (Boyd), when we get those guys in there, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”
Jones certainly looks the part of a 3-4 defensive end; in fact, he’s probably the first prototypical 3-4 end the Packers have had since hiring Dom Capers and converting to his scheme in 2009. Meanwhile, Jones was able to hit the ground running in the defense because the Bruins under coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos ran a strikingly similar scheme. Spanos spent 15 years as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers, including during Capers’ tenure there in the mid-1990s.
“Coach Spanos took a lot of Dom Capers’ defenses. So (the first day of rookie camp), when I’m looking at the playbook, I see pretty much all our installs from when I went to UCLA to here,” Jones said. “Coming here, it’s now like, ‘Let me go to install four and five because I know the first three installs off the top of my head. Let me start learning what other guys do on the field and play faster.”
While the Packers could start the same three defensive linemen in their base defense again this year – Raji, and run-stuffing big men Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson – Jones would seem to be a shoo-in to play in sub packages. Capers estimated that he used his base 3-4 on 1/3 of the defensive snaps last season, his nickel group on another 1/3 and his dime and exotic packages the final 1/3 of the time.
With Jones, Raji could play fewer snaps and might see a spike in production after watching his sack production dip from 6.5 in 2010 to three in 2011 to zero last season. Despite missing two games with an ankle injury, Raji still played a unit-high 768 snaps, followed by Pickett (658), Worthy (467), Wilson (359), Neal (323) and Daniels (280).
“As we watched Datone, you could see him do a lot of the things that we ask our defensive linemen to do. He has the ability to play either outside at defensive end and obviously we play an awful lot of sub packages today in defending the offenses that we have to defend,” Capers said. “So, he can move inside and play inside. He’s an athletic player, has some basketball background. I think he’s a high-character guy with a very good work ethic. Again, as we watched him play, it was easy to project him playing in our defense because they play a very similar defense at UCLA.
“If you’re drawing up a defensive end, you’d like to have a guy with his kind of height and length. It was one of the things that was appealing to us. He’s athletic and he’s long, so he moves with ease. I think that he’ll be able to give us rush inside. In our 3-4, he can play out at defensive end and he can be an inside player and do a good job against both the run and the pass inside."
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