Because of the injuries that have riddled the Green Bay Packers' outside linebacker corps, the Packers are needing — and getting — more from their interior pass rushers.
To put that into some context, the entire defensive line recorded six sacks in 2011 and improved to 11.5 sacks in 2012. An interior rush has been a missing ingredient since 2010, when Cullen Jenkins — who the Packers will face on Sunday — had seven of the defensive line's 18 sacks.
Daniels, the second-year pro out of Iowa, has been a force for most of the season. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits, by the coaches' count.
Jones, the first-round pick out of UCLA, was a force throughout training camp until going down with a sprained ankle in the preseason opener. Due to the impact of the injury and lost practice time, Jones did next to nothing to start the season. He had no sacks and one quarterback hit in the first four games but has cranked up his level of play of late.
"It takes a while in this defense because you're not just a jet rusher all the time," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said on Friday. "It takes a while in this defense to learn how to rush, to learn how to rush cohesively with our ends because our ends do a lot of bull rushing. I think he's starting to get it. He's dropped a little bit of weight. I see a little bit more quick twitch and just more a focus on the moves."
One of the big changes for Jones is playing time. At UCLA, he frequently played 60 or 70 snaps per game.
"Eighty, sometimes," Jones interjected.
With the Packers, he's playing about 20 snaps per game — mostly with Daniels as the nickel pass rushers. So, rather than getting play after play after play against the same blocker, which would give him a chance to set up moves, Jones is getting on the field mostly as a third-down rusher.
"It's pretty much like my freshman year at UCLA. It was the same thing there," Jones said on Friday. "Eventually, I got to start at the end of the year but initially I had to sit back and learn from the older guys and see some of the things that they were doing. It was never a case where I wasn't athletic or strong enough to play. It's the process of learning and really understanding so the games will slow down for you. .... I've had to get used to that again, coming off the bench and giving it my all on that one play because I might not get another play for another series or two. I've had to get that in my mind-set, that whenever I come on the field, it has to be a thousand percent."
Trgovac meets with Jones just about every morning and has found him to be a "very coachable kid." He's also found an instinctive and athletic kid. On the second of Jones' sacks against the Eagles, he dropped into coverage, followed Nick Foles out of the pocket, then converged for the sack.
"That's a little bit of what we saw with him (at UCLA)," Trgovac said. "He was a guy that could do those things and then when they did break, he could go run and catch him. That's what we liked about him. Now, Foles is not the most mobile quarterback, but some of these quarterbacks can run and that's what we liked about him."
The defensive line remains the one healthy unit on the team — a unit that might get a lift if Jerel Worthy is activated from the PUP list in the next week or two. Because of the talent there and the injuries at outside linebacker, defensive coordinator Dom Capers might have to get creative to use his available talent.
"We've had to prepare some different packages basically because of our injury situation, and he factors into those," Capers said. "I think as we go along with these young guys, you don't want to overload them too much and when you see them start to make progress, you want to keep them headed in the same direction. I could see, as we move on here through the second half of the season, of him doing a few more things for us."
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