UCLA's Datone Jones sacks Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez for a safety during a Sept. 8, 2012, game in Pasadena, California. UCLA won 36-30. / File/Getty Images
The Green Bay Packers have been looking for a versatile, three-down defensive lineman ever since they let Cullen Jenkins leave in free agency after the 2010 season.
That’s what they envision for UCLA’s Datone Jones, their first-round pick on Thursday.
When general manager Ted Thompson selected Jones at No. 26 overall, it meant he has used three of his last eight picks, going back to last year’s draft, on defensive linemen. A year ago, he took Jerel Worthy in the second round and Mike Daniels in the fourth.
Worthy has three-down potential but had an up-and-down rookie season and then blew out his knee in the regular-season finale, making it unlikely he will be ready for the start of the season. Daniels showed some pass-rush ability in the sub packages but at 6-foot and 291 pounds, he probably lacks the size to play in both base and sub packages.
So perhaps Jones, 6-3 7/8 and 283 pounds, can be a taller version of the 6-2 Jenkins, who flourished both as an end in the Packers’ base 3-4 defense and as an inside rusher in the nickel and dime.
“He’s taller than Cullen, but that was one of Cullen’s strengths — his ability to move around and play different spots,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said shortly after the Packers picked Jones. “These guys that have the size, they can play at times like a big linebacker and that type of thing.”
Last season, the Packers teamed run-stopping specialist C.J. Wilson with base starters Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji. Wilson almost always came off the field when defensive coordinator Dom Capers put an extra defensive back or two on the field on obvious passing downs. Though Pickett played some with Raji in the sub packages, the Packers also rotated Mike Neal, Worthy and Daniels.
Last season, the Packers got only 11½ sacks from their defensive linemen, led by 4½ by Neal. Neither Raji nor Pickett recorded a sack. In his final season with the Packers, Jenkins had seven sacks in 11 regular-season games.
Jones, who will wear No. 95 for the Packers, had 13½ sacks in his last three seasons at UCLA, including a career-high 6½ last season. He also played the run well, recording 19 tackles for loss last season and 36 ½ for his career.
“You’d like to have a guy that can potentially play all three downs for you,” Capers said, “and we think he has those types of abilities.”
Jones said that UCLA’s coaches used him in a variety of matters, depending on the situation. He played a traditional defensive end position but said he also rushed everywhere from over the center to standing up on the edge.
“Being able to be scheme versatile, being able to line up anywhere on the field and being able to produce at those positions,” Jones said when asked what makes him an impact player.
In Jones, perhaps the Packers added some speed to an otherwise bulky defensive front. As much as scheme and execution, a lack of speed played as much a part in the Packers’ demise last season as anything else. They couldn’t run with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for 181 yards in knocking the Packers out of the playoffs last season. In all, the 49ers totaled 579 yards, including 323 rushing yards in the NFC divisional playoff game.
“Adding this guy, again, our veterans will determine the fate of our team, but adding another good athlete, got a little more speed,” Thompson said. “Trying to add a little more speed to the defense, we think is a good idea.”
It also provides some insurance against the aging Pickett, who may only have one or two more good years left in him, and the possibility that the Packers won’t be able to re-sign Raji.
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