GREEN BAY - Datone Jones’ future became uncertain earlier this month when the Green Bay Packers declined a fifth-year option on their 2013 first-round pick.
But the 6-foot-4, 285-pound former UCLA star might have something to say about that before he needs to start looking for a new place to call home.
Jones arrived in Green Bay for offseason workouts feeling like a new man while preparing to play a bigger role this year. He is expected to serve as an elephant rusher after mostly underwhelming as a defensive end during his first three seasons.
“They want to expand the role and they felt comfortable with me playing out there,” Jones said during the opening week of organized team activities. “Now it’s up to me to now have a complete, full offseason. Really dialed into the playbook, really prepare for this upcoming season. Just get on top of my work.”
Jones, who will turn 26 on July 24, had a limited role in the dime package as a defensive lineman last year before being moved to outside linebacker at midseason because of his strength and pass-rush ability.
It appeared to work.
A few weeks after the move, Jones responded with two sacks, four quarterback hurries and a pass defensed in a Week 11 win over the Minnesota Vikings. He added a tackle for a loss in a Week 12 loss to the Chicago Bears.
“We made the switch during the season in trying to get him more repetitions outside,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We liked the results of it.”
Jones has a chance to be the type of player Capers and the Packers want, one who has enough versatility so that a couple of injuries from one week to the next doesn’t adversely affect the game plan.
Jones felt comfortable in his new spot by the end of the year. He started to have a better understanding of how to approach offenses and where he should be on the field during certain plays.
He finished with 20 total tackles, three passes defensed and three sacks in 15 games after sitting out Week 1 because of a suspension for a marijuana citation. He also ranked third on the team with 12 hits and was fourth with a career-high seven tackles for loss.
He dropped back in coverage only three times, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jones said he has shed a few pounds and lost some body fat since the end of the season and is more in tune with his nutrition in hopes of staying healthy and productive.
He has cut out wheat and has eliminated pasta from his diet. It’s all about protein and vegetables these days.
Capers said Jones probably ended the season weighing in the high 270s and thinks that’s where he still is.
“I have got a six-pack,” Jones said, laughing. “I feel good. I’m trying to do whatever it takes to be able to compete and be able to go out on Sunday and display what I really can do.”
Although he could be asked to drop into zone coverage occasionally, it’s about what he provides as a pass rusher that will help determine whether he remains with the Packers.
Jones admits he’s still a work in progress, but he does have some good mentors to turn to in versatile linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers while he learns on the job.
Jones said Peppers has helped him understand coverages better along with what to look for on certain plays.
“We still think that Datone can go inside and rush inside, but we are working him primarily outside,” Capers said. “He gives you a big physical presence out there, which we think is good on the run. He did some good things rushing the passer.”
As for the team not picking up his option, which would have paid him $6.757 million in 2017?
It doesn’t mean his time in Green Bay has to be done after 2016. He needs only to look at fellow first-round pick Nick Perry, an outside linebacker who was re-signed to a one-year, $5 million contract in March after the team declined his option last season.
Either way, Jones was fine with the Packers’ decision.
“For me, I don’t really get into that,” he said. “I feel like you have to prove it no matter what. You have to prove it to whoever. I am excited. I can play multiple positions …from the outside linebacker all the way down to where the center snaps the ball.
“It didn’t bother me at all. The way I take it is, they are looking for me to show up. It’s a challenge, and I have to go out there and execute.”
Stu Courtney contributed.