Datone Jones has the Opportunity to Thrive in new Role

The 2013 first-round pick was mostly recognized in the Packers' 3-4 scheme as a defensive end. Not so much anymore.

The hardships within transition from one position to another is often an underplayed, less frequently talked about aspect of shifting around on the roster. Having to develop a completely different focus on what your duties are and understanding a new section of the playbook is a lot easier said than done. Just ask Spencer Havner who, in 2009, made the move from outside linebacker to tight end. Call it a brief, yet successful move considering he hauled in four touchdowns that season.

Aaron Kampman and Jeremy Thompson - two former defensive ends in Green Bay. Both were obligated to make the transition to edge-rushers at outside linebacker once Dom Capers came onto the scene in 2009 as the new defensive coordinator. With Capers' and the Packers swapping from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme, Kampman prevailed before being placed on injured reserve late in the season. Thompson, however, not so much. But that's another story.

2013 first-round pick Datone Jones will be the most prominent defensive end to make the move to outside linebacker since Kampman. 

His expanded role didn't take form until halfway through the 2015 campaign where we saw Jones balance as a hybrid at both positions. Once he caught the eye of Mike McCarthy and Capers, that is. Realistically with Julius Peppers and Mike Neal locked into the depth chart as the clear-cut starters on the outside of the front seven, Nick Perry and Jones would be the substituting duo. 

  • Through weeks 2-9, Jones was averaging 27.8% of the defensive snaps as a pure defensive end, accumulating 133 total snaps.
  • Through weeks 10-17, that percentage spiked to 46.3, tallying 231 snaps as opposed to the previous 133.

It was clear the coaching staff saw something they liked with the versatility he showed. At 6'4", 287 pounds, it was easy to see why. Jones had more than enough physicality to successfully meet the requirements and prove as a hybrid weapon on the defense. This was shown tenfold in just his second game into the sudden transition. Jones managed to bring down Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater twice in a 30-13 routing in Minnesota, solidifying his potential standing up on the edge.

Like all first-round picks from the 2013 draft class and beyond, there comes a point where their fifth-year option surfaces and places the front office in a bind. In Jones' case, that bind was rather constricting.

What do you do with a player who has been relatively disappointing and a non-factor through most of his first three seasons, but has just begun showing slight promise and a hint of potential? Well, much like the Packers did with Nick Perry a year ago, you disregard that fifth-year option and place that player in a bind of his own: a put-up or shut-up year.

Jones' contract will expire next offseason, and how well he plays in his "elephant" role as coach McCarthy likes to call it, will likely determine whether or not he inks a new deal. So far, all signs are pointing to the newfound edge-rusher staying in America's Dairyland.

Another factor that can roll in Jones' favor is the presence (nonexistent or significant, you decide) left behind by Mike Neal. Another former defensive end turned outside linebacker who was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, Neal began showing flashes of his own in his slightly-enhanced role on the edge in 2015. The Packers, despite this, showed no interest in renewing his contract. If there was any hope Neal would return to suit up in 2016, the drafting of Kyler Fackrell at 88th overall may have shoved that hope into the dirt and blatantly rubbed it in. 

There's high hope for Jones heading into his contract year, especially with the opportunity to take advantage of the offseason and master his new role. Unlike 2015 where the shift was so sudden, Jones can now hone in on his skills on the edge and find a sense of comfort.

__________________________

Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Comments (20)

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RCPackerFan's picture

June 16, 2016 at 12:26 pm

I think Jones will flourish in the hybrid role they are going to play him in. Last year they started have Jones stand up a lot more and he really did well when he stood up. He was really playing well at the end of the year.

I think having Jones be an OLB on early downs will create a lot more size to defend the run, but he also can rush the QB from that position if teams try to throw it.

I think Jones is just starting to turn his potential into production, and with how they are going to be using him, I think will allow him to fully use his skills.

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Ibleedgreenmore's picture

June 16, 2016 at 01:02 pm

He sure looked good in that spot, the Redskin game brought out the best in him.

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Since'61's picture

June 16, 2016 at 01:03 pm

Hopefully with Jones playing in his new hybrid role maybe he will make it through the season injury free and we will have an opportunity to evaluate his performance based on a full season. In his first three seasons he has been often injured reducing his playing time and his effectiveness. Make or break season for Datone. Thanks, Since '61

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Bearmeat's picture

June 16, 2016 at 01:13 pm

I'm skeptical. Just like I am skeptical with Perry. They're both too big and not good enough in space to do the full OLB job.

Elephant rushers are specialized roles and to my knowledge, only Peppers has really made it work. He's a generational athletic freak. Jones is not.

I hope I'm wrong. But I don't buy it.

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Tarynfor12's picture

June 16, 2016 at 01:24 pm

I'm curious to see which happens first....the square peg taking the shape of the round hole or the round hole being grooved to a square with this insisted hammering of wrong pieces to create situation rotation at best with not often enough results on the field worthy of the endeavor. : )

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 16, 2016 at 08:50 pm

^^This. [But it makes sense to move Datone since he has shown that he can't play 5 technique.]

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dobber's picture

June 16, 2016 at 02:30 pm

This square peg has already shown that he doesn't fit in the round hole of a 3-4 DE. Maybe OLB/Elephant will be more of an oval or rectangular hole...

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Bearmeat's picture

June 16, 2016 at 04:13 pm

Right. But unless he remarkably makes hay this year, that still qualifies him as a b-b-b-ust. :(

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DrealynWilliams's picture

June 16, 2016 at 08:54 pm

I don't think he'll be remarkable, but I do believe he'll be more effective. I actually like his skill set. He just hasn't put it all together yet. They're moving him to Elephant because he can beat Guards with his quickness (when playing DL) and has the body and strength to hold edges (when playing standing up). He better work on a 2nd and 3rd pass rush move though.

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Bearmeat's picture

June 17, 2016 at 07:41 am

You're right. And yet, as a 4th year 1st round pick, this is what we're left hoping for.

Not. Good.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

June 17, 2016 at 10:01 am

I can absolutely agree with that. It's not good at all.

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago after seeing some of his film at UCLA. I can understand why the Pack chose him in the 1st round. It just sucks that he hasn't been able to put his skills together and play with some consistency for an entire season. At least the talent is there.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 16, 2016 at 09:07 pm

"2013 first-round pick Datone Jones will be the most prominent defensive end to make the move to outside linebacker since Kampman."

Well, there was Neal. There was Peppers moving from DE to elephant OLB. Although Kampman may have shown that he could play OLB, he was clearly a better 4-3 DE, so I wouldn't say that worked out great for anyone.

"The hardships within transition from one position to another is often an underplayed, less frequently talked about aspect of shifting around on the roster."

Not really. Square peg, round hole - needs no further explanation on this website. I agree that changing position is hard though.

The bind stuff in the article is just wrong.

The fifth year option is a management tool. It is not there to help players. [I agree to a limited extent that it is a PR issue for teams. Might affect some GMs, but I think TT isn't worried about PR.] There is a very small chance of the 5th year option backfiring on a team - injury that requires a team to pay an under-performing player. Even if GB had exercised the 5th year option, Datone would have been in a prove-it season. If Datone plays poorly, he gets cut or receives a cheap contract regardless of whether the 5th yr. option has been invoked. If he plays really well, the team gets a 5th year at a reasonable or even cheap price.

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Nick Perry's picture

June 17, 2016 at 05:32 am

When Neal was moved one of the reasons was he was thought to be too heavy which the coaching staff thought played a part in his injury in 2011 to his knees. Once Neal dropped a few ponds he was able to stay on the field and was more productive as well.

Neal is 6'3", Jones 6'4", both these guys are trying to carry too much weight, especially Neal to play DE. I think this will be a good move for Jones. The Packers need Jones to to 2 things, stop the run and rush the passer and everything else that comes with that. Wouldn't it b something is Jones collects 8 plus sacks in his new role. Hello Charles Haley!!!

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Bearmeat's picture

June 17, 2016 at 07:42 am

If that happens, I'll be happy to eat all the crow in the world.

I don't think it has a snowball's chance in US Bank Stadium of happening though.

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pack13xwc's picture

June 18, 2016 at 04:39 pm

DJ has already shown some potential at elephant late last yr. Now he's being groomed for it. Unless another prospect at a potentially loaded position outshines him, I have a feeling he may become much better utilized at OLB. With Peppers used sparingly to keep him fresh, there will be opportunity for the others to show what they can do.

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lucky953's picture

June 17, 2016 at 08:08 am

I don't hear anyone saying they miss Mike Neal. Jones is more athletic, but if Lowry can play DE and Fackrell can play OLB, the Elephant will be playing somewhere else. These were misses in the draft and the scheme was changed to accommodate their limitations (er..strengths?). Capers, I believe, would rather have guys that can straight up play. Scheme doesn't hide lack of talent.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

June 17, 2016 at 10:38 am

"I don't hear anyone saying they miss Mike Neal."

Because we have enough Elephants as is. The snaps Neal is leaving behind are going to Jones/Perry/Elliot/Fackrell/McCray. 2 Elephants and 3 true LBs. Fackrell won't be jumping anyone on the depth chart no time soon. Well, maybe McCray.

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lucky953's picture

June 17, 2016 at 12:55 pm

I agree with you that Fackrell is at best a situational guy this year, but next year is when they'll make a decision on Jones and that will partly be based on what they see in Fackrell this year

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DrealynWilliams's picture

June 17, 2016 at 01:17 pm

I agree. They might even throw Perry's play into their decision making since his contract will be expiring and he's playing the same role.

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