Asked to give his initial impression of first round draft choice Datone Jones following the first day of practice at rookie orientation camp, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, “I’m glad he’s here.”
McCarthy is understandably excited about his new addition to the Green Bay defense. Jones brings an element––several elements––missing from the Packers defensive line the past few seasons. He has the potential to be a three-down player, can play both end and tackle, can rush the passer as well as stuff the run, and at 6-4, has more length than any other defensive lineman on the roster.
The cherry on top of the sundae for McCarthy was Jones’ background from his college days at UCLA, which the head coach hopes will allow his new chess piece to step in right away and be a factor.
“Datone hit the lottery in a number of different ways,” said McCarthy. “It’s the same terminology. Lou Spanos, their defensive coordinator, is someone who grew up in the system in Pittsburgh and does a great job. And so the terminology will be pretty seamless for him.”
Hit the lottery indeed. By becoming a first round draft choice Jones is about to become an instant millionaire. Because of the NFL’s nearly predetermined rookie wage scale, Jones will very soon sign a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $11.7 million, including a signing bonus of $3.9 million, just for putting his John Hancock on the dotted line.
But as far as football concerned, it’s probably not going to take Jones long to familiarize himself with coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 defensive system, and a lot of it has to do with UCLA bringing in Jim Mora Jr. and his knowledge of the NFL last season.
Following an uninspiring 21-29 record over four years as head coach of the Bruins, UCLA fired Rick Neuheisel and brought in a head coach with a professional football pedigree, which has made all the difference in Westwood.
“He told us when he came in, in his first team meeting,” said Jones at the NFL Combine, “if you have aspirations of playing on the next level, he said, ‘Then I’m your guy. I’m bringing an NFL staff in here––coaches who’ve never coached college football before.’
“He’s never coached college football before, so he said this is the NFL now. If you’re a senior, he said this is your rookie year. All your coaches are from the NFL. He said, ‘You’ve got to make my 53-man roster now.’ I felt like it helped. I’ve been well-prepared for this.”
In addition to being a position coach and coordinator at several different stops in the NFL, Mora was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2004 to 2006 and again for the Seattle Seahawks in 2009.
“Jim Mora’s a heck of a football coach that I’ve had the opportunity to compete against in the past,” said McCarthy. “And you can see Jim, he’s really made an impression, and he’s got that program off to a great start. That’s something (Jones and I) had a chance to talk about last night. I’m just very impressed with the way (he) had been prepared for the NFL.”
When Mora was hired as coach at UCLA in 2012 after two years spent in broadcasting with Fox and the NFL Network, he hired Spanos as his defensive coordinator. Spanos had previously spent 15 seasons as an assistant with the Steelers and three more with the Washington Redskins.
Back in 1994, Spanos and Capers spent one season working with the Steelers together when Capers was the defensive coordinator and Spanos was working as an intern in the scouting department.
When you start to connect the dots between Jones’ obvious physical attributes and his experience playing for an NFL-like program at UCLA, you start to learn why Packers general manager Ted Thompson tagged him as the 26th overall choice in the NFL Draft.
“We run a 3-4 here, a tight front, that’s what we ran at UCLA,” said Jones on Friday upon meeting the local Green Bay media for the first time. “I’m picking up on the terminology pretty fast. I’m just trying to do my part, doing my due diligence by coming in here and learning the playbook and learning from the older guys and learning the Green Bay Packers way.”
Jones’ first practice as a member of the Packers is in the books, but he’s just getting started. He’ll wrap up two more days of rookie orientation camp on Saturday and Sunday before joining the rest of the veterans in Green Bay for organized team activities before the month is over.
Expectations from the fan base and the media will be high for Jones, but those from McCarthy––at least for this weekend––are more modest.
“He just told me to learn the playbook so I can play fast,” said Jones. “That’s what I’m going to do first, learn the playbook.”
Considering it was pretty darn close to the playbook he used at UCLA, Jones is already a step ahead of most NFL rookies.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “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@example.com.