It was well publicized Pete Carroll mentioned pass rush, from both the edge and from the interior, as main priorities during the post season presser. Regardless of who was eventually signed, there was a strong possibility the Seahawks would make changes all along the defensive line and at linebacker once free agency started. Seattle has plenty of unusually athletic size along the line with Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch, but they needed the athleticism and speed to match; also to complement the uniquely built group in the secondary. In general, quenching the need for speed and athleticism in the front seven represents the next step in building this defense.
Until early last Wednesday evening, I'll admit I had never watched a football game with Jason Jones as the sole focus. I was aware he was among the top free agents available in this class; a versatile, young and explosive but also inconsistent defensive lineman with "superstar" upside, someone that needed to play in the right scheme to flourish. But once it became clear last Wednesday that Mario Williams was not coming this way and Jason Jones was the first defensive lineman truly linked to Seattle, I decided I should learn a bit about him.
After a few hours of research and watching internet clips, I turned on a game that I thought would show the "truth": the Patriots 59-0 schlaking of the Titans in the snow in 2009 - Jones' second year in the league. Amongst the mostly bad Titans' performance in that game, he flashed that interior pass rush Seattle so badly needs, showed he is uniquely put-together and athletic, displayed a heckuva motor and versatility. At 6'5", 276 pounds he played a snap at many positions along the defensive line. He seemed unique. I kept watching games in anticipation that I'd be writing something soon after he was signed because I was quickly convinced the front office really liked this guy.
And honestly, I was thinking ‘if only I had turned on a Titans game months ago...' because the more I watched, the more obvious it seemed to me he was worth the risk. I continued to scratch my head as to why I didn't pay closer attention to the articles and turn on a game earlier...but that's the past; I'm really excited about this addition. I like the one year, guaranteed deal at $4.5 million (worth up to $5 million). It's effectively putting a half-franchise tag price on a potentially premier free agent at a major position of need. He played 13 games his rookie year (2008) and only seven in '09 - placed on IR towards the end of the year with a shoulder injury. As a starter in the past two years he's missed four games total - the one year fully guaranteed deal I find logical from this perspective, the terms reflect both the risk and the potential. If he plays well and stays healthy, Seattle knows they will have to pay him as one of their own.
Before the pictures (and a few video links, most of which can be found here) of his play from 2009-2011 begin, a few facts. This draft profile highlights solid combine numbers (his 10-yard split was 1.59, during a 4.76 40 yard dash) and mentions his impressive production at Eastern Michigan - 10.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss in two seasons according to that profile - in the MAC conference. He was a 2nd round pick as a DE/DT. He's got 15.5 sacks, 15 passes defended, 14 tackles for loss (10 in 2010, his only year as a starting defensive tackle), 7 forced fumbles and a blocked kick in his pro career. He does more than just rush the passer, but he hasn't consistently produced at the level he's flashed.
An off the field fact; his Wikipedia page mentions that he is involved in an organization that mentors youth - those in the juvenile system as well - in a "cross-cultural environment" that stimulates unity. I think this is unique enough to note as we learn more about him. Another fact; he's been ejected once, too, in Week 2 of 2009.
Something important to note about Jones. The Titans' defensive line scheme in 2009 and 2010 was engineered by Jim Washburn. I'm not going to pretend to be a defensive guru, but they do some complex things. I note this because Jones lines up in a lot of variations - in gaps and head up on lineman. Because of broadcast angles, it's hard to always be exact as a head, arm or shoulder can be tilted in a ton of ways. Be aware "2-tech", "4 -tech" and other variations are likely part of the game plan. He does show the ability to hesitate, then react. Right away he appears versed playing much of the line, certainly better at some positions and potentially in certain schemes than in others. Hopefully Seattle will implement what he does best, either way. I think this versatility attracted Seattle.
For what it's worth, (probably a lot), NFL Films' Exec and preeminently respected football analyst Greg Cosell is very, very high on Jason Jones. Danny transcribed this recent analysis on Jones by Cosell:
"I like Jason Jones, and you know, speaking about versatility, he can play end, he can play tackle. He plays it very well. He was in Tennessee when Jim Washburn was in Tennessee. Washburn used him in a very versatile way, and I think that Jones is a guy that - he can line up anywhere, and be very effective.
He's bigger than you think. I mean, he's about 6'5, 275, but I mean here (points at screen), he's dropping into coverage. He's an athletic player, and he's shown the ability over the years to be a good pass rusher. He's had some injuries at times which I think have impacted his ability to be on the field as much as you would like, but I think that in the right scheme, and if he could stay healthy, I think this guy could be a very, very good pass rusher.
Because I think he's long, he's lanky, he's quick, he's got some athleticism to him, he's a very intriguing player, and I like him a lot. I think that he can add a lot to a defense."
Now, on to the main goal; to show Jones' skill set and some of his play from the past three years. We'll start with 2009 and move forward through each of four games from a given year - plus an individual play, here and there. Stats and such won't be much of a focus, so here is a link to his 2009 gamelog if you want to see what he did in a given game, or in other years. Screenshots are after the jump.
Week 1 2009 at Pittsburgh
Why this game? Because they are the defending champs, and Big Ben is so crafty and tough to take down.
Jones flashes against the run right away. He lines up over the B-gap.
On the snap the guard helps the tackle, and Jones gets knocked back a bit. But once the guard moves on and Jones regains leverage...
He shoots inside the tackle and makes the play in the backfield. Immediately you see he draws double teams, but has the ability to keep fighting and make a play.
A few plays later, he makes this play (which many have probably seen at this point). Some things to take note of here: the strong handwork with his initial move, the ability to stay skinny and drive upfield, but most importantly this play is the first definition of "motorocious." He misses Big Ben the first time, but not the second as he gets the sack.
We've seen his ability to be disruptive in the backfield; what about when he can't win on the initial move or break through the line?
He's capable of staying active and getting push. Even when jammed up he can still play big and disrupt passing lanes, in this case forcing the dumpoff. Down the road you will see some examples where he's not able to make quite the impact.
So far we've seen a long, athletic, quick and sometimes strong tweener lineman. Now we see his ability to put those traits together and make plays on the move.
Jones is battling to get his hands free...
Wingspan...check out Jones' lateral agility as he loops around the rush.
He forces the incompletion. Greg Cosell observed on Twitter last week that Jones has better lateral movement than probable 1st round pick Quinton Coples, a similar type player.
This next play is the final example from the Pittsburgh game, one where Jones really flashes his dominant ability. Check out the initial quickness; Jones gets the guard to lunge outside, gets his right hand on the guard's left shoulder then blows by him to the inside.
Now it's almost as if the back in pass protection doesn't exist...
Yowzah! The play is even more impressive in real time. In general, check out all the Titans around Ben. Pass incomplete.
Now it's time for something unusual. I turned on the Week 2 game, the home opener versus the Texans, to check out the ejection. From what I can see, he was maybe throwing down during an after the play tussle while it seemed like he was protecting a teammate, and threw one at the wrong time:
See Jones' hand, see the ref. He gets tossed immediately. But, there's a silver lining to this. Jones goes over to the sideline...
His teammates give him dap (more than just these two, and it looked like a trainer/coach as well)...
And the crowd gives him an ovation as he runs off during a tie game in the 4th, one which the Titans eventually lose. I don't know what to make of this situation, but I think he comes across as a liked player through this sequence. Admittedly, I can offer nothing concrete.
Week 6 2009 at New England
Why this game? Because it's the Patriots, in the snow. And you want to see how things are when it's going rough.
Do realize Jones had two sacks in this game, but the not-so-dominant side is what I want to focus on as we wrap up part I.
Early in his career Jones struggled against the run. While we saw his ability to shoot gaps and win in the trenches versus Pittsburgh, here we see what happens when Jones gets caught playing high/upright - one of the most consistent flaws in his game to this point. If he gets high off the ball and the blocker engages...
He will get driven back. Here he is able to keep working towards the ball carrier and get in on the tackle, but he's not always able to do that. Early in my Jones watching he got driven backwards off the ball against the run a fair bit - sometimes due to double teams - and a good play by an offensive lineman could take Jones out of the play. Granted, he's a lanky, light defensive tackle; he's not necessarily the type you'd expect to hold his ground in the run game, though he shows unexpected strength. Also, Jones often pursued if he disengaged before the whistle.
This next play shows something new. In what I've seen, there is very little of Jones lining up on the right side - once in the Pittsburgh game - of the line, but he plays a bit more 1-tech/near the center than you would expect for a man of his size. Because of the lateral agility shown above, Jones is involved in tons of stunts. Here he will stunt around the right defensive tackle, but...
The protection gets him off balance. Friggin' snow. This play was a touchdown. Realize this is not the usual result when they ask him to do more than just rush gaps; he can make plays as part of a pressure scheme. One more thing to note from this game; check out where Jones is in goal line formation:
To this point my hope is you see both the upside and downside in Jones' game. Granted, we are still early in his career and there is much more to share. To here he's been used primarily as a 3rd down rusher and as part of the rotation at left defensive tackle, but he's not a starter. In fact, there have been stretches where he leaves the field for a handful of plays or doesn't even get on if it's a short series.
Going forward, his portfolio of plays, both good and bad, will paint a picture of (in my opinion) an intriguing fit for this defense. If he stays healthy and the staff puts him in position to make plays, I think he will become a difference maker.
This game was before the Titans' bye in 2009. This is where we'll stop and soon pick back up with the Jaguars coming out of the bye, when Jones is fresh and ready to wreak havoc. Then we will go into 2010 when he begins to breakout, before taking a closer look at his transition to playing much more defensive end in 2011.