Datone Jones is the latest Green Bay Packers defensive player to get a new job description.
Coordinator Dom Capers confirmed Thursday that the Packers plan to keep working the former first-round pick at both outside linebacker and defensive lineman going forward after Jones rotated at both spots in Sunday’s 18-16 loss to Detroit.
Jones has been productive as an inside rusher in the Packers’ dime package this season, but rarely used in the base and nickel sub packages. In an effort to get him more reps, the Packers often rushed him outside opposite Nick Perry against the Lions. Jones finished with a season-high 30 snaps.
The change was reflected in Thursday’s padded practice when Jones split time working with defensive line coach Mike Trgovac and linebackers coach Winston Moss.
“He’s going to swing in both ways,” Capers said. “He’ll work with Trgo on certain things and he’ll work with Winston on other things. We’re trying to develop that. Probably last week was the first step. We thought the week before we probably wanted to give Datone a few more reps, try to round out the reps because he was a little low a week before.”
Positions in Capers' defense have become increasingly blurred in recent years with Jones joining a growing list of defenders who converted to new positions, including elephant rushers Mike Neal and Julius Peppers. At 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, Jones is larger than the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker, but similar in stature to Peppers (6-7, 287).
The Packers drafted Jones with the 28th overall pick in 2013 in hopes he could play end in the base defense and inside rusher in the sub packages. Instead, he mostly has been relegated to the dime in part because of recurring ankle injuries. He has nine tackles and a sack this season.
Still, it’s not the first time Jones has played outside linebacker. He filled in during the 2013 playoff game against San Francisco when Neal left with a knee injury after five snaps and didn’t return.
“Some of his best rushes are from outside, so he absolutely can help us in both of those regards,” Trgovac said. “The thing is it was time to do that. We felt like his development was far enough along at his position where he could go and do things at another position.”
This will be an important upcoming stretch for Jones, who has 40 tackles and six sacks in his first 37 regular-season games. He still has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but the Packers must decide this offseason whether to exercise their fifth-year option.
Presently, Green Bay is one of only five NFL teams that have yet to use the option since it was introduced during the most recent collective bargaining agreement.
In theory, the switch should give Jones a better chance to get consistent playing time, especially with the Packers’ propensity to operate in their nickel defense, leaving only two spots available for defensive linemen at any given time.
“We always want to find ways to increase guys’ reps and decrease some other guys’ reps and it was time to do that with ‘Tone,” Trgovac said. “I think the first couple years that’s hard to do with a young kid because he’s learning his position. He’s been in there three years now. He actually did it a couple years ago in an emergency situation. It’s an easy transition for him.”
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