The Green Bay Packers were 15-1 during the 2011 regular season, a truly monumental feat considering their defense was ranked last in the NFL as well as worst in the team’s history. After a quick exit in the playoffs against the Giants, one thing has been stuck front and center in Ted Thompson’s mind; find some defensive linemen that are more than just space eaters.
After the shock of that loss wore off, there was plenty of talk from the Packers defensive coaches during the early spring of 2012 about needing some “juice” out of the defensive line. Basically, finding a guy or two that can be more of a disruptor than a “hold your ground” guy. Someone who can collapse the pocket from the inside and help the Packers pathetic pass rush. Thompson has been trying ever since.
In March of 2012, Thompson took the unusual path (for him) of bringing in a few free agents, albeit low-risk gambles like Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir. He followed that up by drafting Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels a month later and then signing yet another free agent in May, Philip Merling.
Referring to the free agents, Hargrove showed little and was cut in camp. Daniel Muir had a surprisingly impressive training camp and was somewhat of a surprise cut on the final week. Merling stuck around until Mike Neal returned from his 4 game suspension and then was cut. No juice attained from those three.
The draft picks were a mixed bag. I wasn’t a fan of the Worthy draft pick myself, and he played to my expectations. If he has the will, the effort or the juice, he sure didn’t show it before landing on injured reserve. Mike Daniels was a pleasant surprise – I knew little of him other than he was undersized at 6’0″ and had been quite productive rushing the passer from inside at Iowa. Making the jump to the NFL, the massive offenive linemen he has to deal with on a consistent basis limits the impact Daniels is able to make at this level. However, used in the right situations, he brought a little juice with his quickness and got some pressure on the quarterback. He’s just not the every-down player the Packers need.
So, as the Packers approached the 2013 NFL draft, my feeling was they would be looking once again for some “juice” on the defensive line (and running back help). Back in April, in my mock draft prediction in the CheeseheadTV draft Guide, I had Jones as the Packers pick:
Datone Jones DE UCLA, 6’4”, 283lbs. Packers GM Ted Thompson, who eschews big-name free agents, did entertain thoughts of adding help at two positions this year, Defensive End and Running Back. With running back providing better value in later rounds, the Packers look to bolster their defensive line with perhaps the most well-rounded 3-4DE prospect in the draft. Jones has the strength to take on and shed double-teams as well as the initial burst to break through inside and collapse the pocket as a pass rusher. Alternate Choices: Sylvester Williams, Eddie Lacy.
It’s been only three days of camp and just one padded practice, but Jones is already garnering the accolades of his coaches and teammates. Jones is the real deal, people.
After practice Sunday, head coach Mike McCarthy said, “Everybody’s different, everybody’s built differently. You look at the way they carry their pads and the way they move in pads. I thought Datone looked very good, very comfortable. He’s in good shape.”
This is what I liked about Jones when I was watching video of him before the draft. He’s got size, strength, speed, smarts, desire and he’s a good citizen. Everything you could possibly ask for and just the kind of juice the Packers DL has needed.
Speaking about Jones, Packers DL Johnny Jolly said, “He’s looking good, man. He’s so fast, man, it’s not even funny.”
Jones will see plenty of action and as I said last week on CheeseheadTV’s Railbird Central with Brian Carriveau, he will be a starter by the middle of the season. For now, they’ve been working him some at DE, but mostly in the sub packages, paired with BJ Raji.
Of course, with the amount of time the Packers spend in sub packages, you can almost say he’ already a starter.
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.