Jones Goes from Odd Man Out to Next Man Up

Linebacker Brad Jones was moved to the inside during the offseason. On Sunday, he will get the start at St. Louis and potentially will be an every-down player for the first time since early 2010. "It's like playing the violin and the viola. They look the same but they sound a little bit different."

In 2009, with the Green Bay Packers transitioning to Dom Capers' 3-4 defense, general manager Ted Thompson famously rocketed back into the first round to grab Clay Matthews.

Thompson ended that draft by selecting Brad Jones, who played outside linebacker in Colorado's 3-4 scheme.

When Aaron Kampman went down at midseason with a knee injury that ended his career in Green Bay, the rookie Jones joined the starting lineup and had four sacks in seven games.

Jones never reached that level again. A shoulder injury ruined his 2010 season and he was a nonfactor last season, even as the Packers got almost no production from Erik Walden.

This spring, the Packers used a first-round pick on Nick Perry, re-signed Walden and moved Jones to inside linebacker.

On Sunday, with Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith out for the season, Jones will join veteran A.J. Hawk as the starting inside linebackers at St. Louis.

"In the offseason, it was awesome," Jones said. "That's kind of been my modus operandi since forever. Whatever any team at any level needed, I've stepped in and done it well without any lapse. It's been my MO. I didn't see anything different. It was awesome to get the opportunity, when it first came up, to do something different.

"It's like playing the violin and the viola. They look the same but they sound a little bit different."

With the addition of Perry and the return of the rugged, 250-pound Walden, Jones effectively was out of the equation at outside linebacker. Yet Jones had plenty of value as a core member of the special teams and one of the unit's top performers with 11 tackles last season.

So, the Packers went to the unusual step of having a fourth-year player switch positions.

"We just felt that, physically, Brad was always going to be fighting," Capers said on Friday. "The outside guys, you'd like those guys to be in that 250-, 255-pound range and Brad's fighting to be 240. Brad has some slipperiness to him and he's played a lot of football outside for us, but when you're rushing against a tackle all day and you're giving up over 100 pounds, we just felt backing him up off the ball and letting him play the inside linebacker position was more suited to him. I think it's been a good move. I think it's the right place for him."

Jones spent the offseason practices and training camp shuttling between inside linebacker and outside linebacker, depending on that day's injury report. With a degree in economics and close to a degree in astrophysics, Jones had no problem handling the mental juggling act.

"I think Brad brings a real good skill-set to the inside linebacker position," inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said. "I think he has a real good tempo. He's going to play with a lot of energy and bring a real good effort. I think he's got a nose for the ball. He's going to have some carryover or transitional pass-rush skills from the outside linebacker position. We're doing very similar techniques, just from different spots, so the learning curve is obviously reduced. He's a bright kid, very conscientious, real good professional. He's got some experience; he's been in this defense for a while. We anticipate him being able to come in and help us out."

Thrust into action last week after Smith's injury, Jones didn't look out of place. In 17 snaps, Jones recorded two tackles, including a tackle for loss against Arian Foster late in the first half. Moss thought Jones played fast and didn't have any major problems with his assignments.

"You're thinking your role for that game was special teams and then, all of a sudden, D.J. goes down and then, bam, all of a sudden, I'm rolling in there," Moss said. "We don't hold anything back. It's the same exact calls that he has to be prepared for. It takes a second to transition from the thought process of what your role was before the game, which was special teams, to be able to go in and focus on all the things that we talked about during the week about my position. That's a big transition and, obviously, he was going up against a very good team, as well."

For the first five-plus games, Smith was the lone inside linebacker in the Packers' dime package, with Hawk filling that role after Smith's injury. The Packers, seeing no reason to give away anything until kickoff on Sunday, were tightlipped about whether Hawk or Jones would serve as the dime inside linebacker.

With Jones' height (6-foot-3) and athletic ability — not to mention Capers' hesitancy to expose Hawk in coverage — it wouldn't be a shock to see Jones being the every-down linebacker on Sunday.

"It's the same fundamentals, same drops, it's just that you're doing it from a different spot," Jones said of playing coverage.

Other than Week 17 of last season, when he started at outside linebacker as the Packers rested Matthews, Jones hasn't been a starter since getting the call in five of the first six games of 2010. Now, Jones is positioned to start the rest of the season for a team with championship aspirations.

"I think I have a really good natural feel for inside linebacker," he said. "I never really felt awkward inside. I just felt good, you know? It's about knowing the assignments and I can pick up stuff pretty well."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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