Datone Jones plans on spending the next decade with the Green Bay Packers, if not longer. That’s why the rookie defensive end isn’t obsessing over the quiet start to his National Football League career.
At the same time, Jones understands the high expectations that might as well be written into the contract of any first-round draft pick, so he readily admits that he is disappointed in his lack of productivity through the season’s first two games.
“It’s a marathon,” Jones said, not sounding the least bit like he was second-guessing himself. “I’m not looking forward to my career being over in two years. I’m looking forward to having a long career, and it’s going to take time – especially in this defense.
“This is an unselfish defense, and for a lot of people looking into it, they don’t really understand it. You’ve got to be really unselfish to play in this defense, and I understand that and I understand my role. I’m not looking for my career to be over in two years. I’m looking forward to having a long, successful career. And there’ll be many great plays.”
So far, though? There have been none.
Jones has played exactly 38 snaps on defense through two games – 18 in the opener at San Francisco, and 20 on Sunday against Washington. He has been credited with three tackles (one solo) on the Packers’ official statistics, but according to Pro Football Focus, not only has Jones yet to record his first NFL sack, he also has doughnuts in the columns for quarterback hits and quarterback hurries.
Considering Jones’ playing time has almost exclusively been in the team’s dime package as one of the two defensive linemen (most often next to Mike Neal) with three linebackers and six defensive backs, that’s not exactly ideal.
Jones arrived as the No. 26 overall pick out of UCLA with the advantage of having played in a lite version of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ system, so he was well ahead of the curve as compared to other rookies on learning the scheme. But then, on his first NFL preseason snap against Arizona on Aug. 9, he sprained his ankle and missed the next preseason game at St. Louis on Aug. 17. He then played 15 snaps against Seattle on Aug. 23 – despite reinjuring the ankle in practice during the week – and 26 snaps against Kansas City in the Aug. 29 preseason finale.
“He missed a lot of time because of that ankle. I don’t think you can underestimate that with a rookie, to kind of pick the system up and get comfortable and be able to go and play at full speed and all that,” Capers replied when asked why Jones has gotten off to a slow start. “You have to have those repetitions and he missed an awful lot of repetitions. I think he was the healthiest coming back this last week. I think it’s still a process for him because of all the time he missed.”
Jones, meanwhile, has another explanation. While he playfully nicknamed himself “Tornado” Jones and “Hurricane” Jones during one session with reporters during training camp, he didn’t get many opportunities to get after San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick as the coaches limited the number of “Jet” calls in which defensive linemen can burst upfield. Capers’ concern was that being too aggressive with his linemen in passing situations would result in open scrambling lanes for Kaepernick, who’d rushed for an NFL quarterback-record 181 yards in the 49ers’ NFC Divisional Playoff victory last January.
But with Washington’s Robert Griffin III still working his way back from January reconstructive knee surgery and limited in his running, Capers through caution to the wind on Sunday, sending six or more pass rushers after Griffin on a quarter of his drop backs. And yet, Jones didn’t get a sniff.
Nevertheless, he insists he’s not discouraged.
“Over time, as a D-lineman, you get frustrated. Especially me being a pass-rusher – that’s my thing,” Jones said. “For me, the biggest thing is I don’t want to get selfish and do something that wasn’t in our game plan and screw up our defense and have the one time I get an upfield pass rush, Colin Kaepernick breaks for 80 yards and it’s my fault. All I can do is stick to the coaches’ game plan and play it out.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.