Being a first round NFL Draft choice provides a player with instant name recognition and a degree of celebrity but it doesn't guarantee success.
Jones is learning that lesson as he acts as host of the Tellurian Celebrtiy Golf Tournament in the Wisconsin Dells on Monday.
Despite being the 26th overall selection in the draft last year, Jones didn't start a single game his rookie year and made just 10 tackles all season long, an average of less than one per game.
With the Green Bay Packers in the midst of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), Jones is hard at work to become a better player and live up to that first-round billing.
"I already feel 100 times better than what I felt last year, and I had a full offseason, and I've learned so much from these older guys so far, and I'm just ready to go out and play," said Jones last week.
Understandably, Jones is champing at the bit for the season to start. He wants to put last season's ankle injury behind him—but truthfully, he doesn't want to talk about it.
And admirably, Jones doesn't want to use the injury as an excuse.
"I gave it my all last year; I left it out on the field," said Jones. "You can't really look back at last year any more, you know? What happened in the past is done. Now all I can do is progress every day, so that I can reach my goals. I got to make myself happy and not anyone else."
Jones may have very well given it his all last season. But simply giving maximum effort means little when you're playing on a bum ankle.
If Jones doesn't want to acknowledge how much he was hindered by injury last season, his head coach will.
"His injury at the end of training camp set him back," said Mike McCarthy back in February at the NFL Combine. "There’s a number of packages that he was a big part of, a primary part of, and frankly we really didn’t get to a lot of them just because of the way the season went with our injuries."
The timing of Jones' injury couldn't have been worse. Facing the Arizona Cardinals, he originally sprained his ankle on his first snap of the first preseason game of the year.
Jones was lost for the remainder of the game and sat out the following week as well while on the mend.
Prior to the Packers' third preseason game, Jones returned to practice but then aggravated his injury, setting him back even further.
He never missed another game, Jones simply wasn't the same player. He never played in so much as half the team's snaps in a single game last season, according to ProFootballFocus.com, and only on two occasions played more than a third of the defensive snaps.
Yes, it was a trying rookie campaign, but Jones' raw talent is undeniable. Given a dose of good health, the sky is the limit for a player of his caliber.
"Getting him back in the offseason, I feel he’s one of those second year players who will take a huge jump," said McCarthy. "That will be my expectations for him.”
Even before the team's offseason program began, Jones was doing his best to make sure the upcoming year would be a success.
Some players go to warmer climates when the season is over, but not Jones. According to the Compton native, he put on his earbuds and listened to the theme from Rocky while working out in the snow of Green Bay.
"It was cold, but I had fun and got after it," said Jones.
Gone from last season are some of the roadblocks to playing time, fellow of defensive linemen such as Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, both of whom remain on the open market as free agents.
Jones will be looked at as a much heavier part of the defensive line rotation in 2014 and will try to build off last year's 3.5 sacks.
In June, all Jones can do is continue to work. Until the pads come on during training camp, there's little more he can do to prove that his rookie season was an abnormality. For now, the grind continues.
"Just to make sure I was getting healthy every day and just progressing every day, that's all I could pretty much do," said Jones. "I learned probably a long time ago playing football, you can set goals but if you're going to set your goals high, you got to make sure that you're working hard so those goals can come true."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
Photo: Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones by Benny Sieu of USA TODAY Sports.
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