At the NFL’s spring owners meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Datone Jones would continue his move from defensive end to the elephant position.
Julius Peppers and Mike Neal personified the Packers’ use of the elephant role last season by lining up as the starting outside linebackers in the base defense before moving to defensive tackle in the team’s pass-rushing packages.
Jones began playing some outside linebacker in the base defense during the Nov. 15 game against Detroit before moving inside on passing downs. The expanded role meant more snaps for Jones, who to that point in his career had been unable to earn regular playing time at defensive end in the base defense.
“It’s probably not a lot different with Julius,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said of Jones’ role following that game. “Datone still plays some inside in dime (and), on first and second down, being able to bump him outside and get him a few reps out there. We talk all the time how can we get our best personnel groups on the field and utilize them and you come out of a couple games and maybe Datone didn’t have as many repetitions as you’d like to get him, so you’re always looking for different ways to get good players more reps.”
According to data provided courtesy of Pro Football Focus, Jones played 156 snaps at outside linebacker during the final 10 games (including playoffs). Compare that to a total of 88 snaps at defensive end for the entire 18-game season. After averaging 19.0 snaps per game to start the season, Jones' playing time increased to 29.8 snaps per game for the final 10 games.
Jones, a first-round pick in 2013, responded with arguably the top season of his career. After missing the opener due to suspension, Jones tallied 25 tackles, three sacks and three passes defensed in 15 games. While he tied for sixth on the team in sacks, Jones finished second with 13 quarterback hits, according to the coaches’ count.
Jones is entering the final season of his rookie contract. If he finally reaches his potential this season, he might be the long-term replacement for Peppers, who is 36 and entering the final year of his contract.
Meanwhile, with the decision to re-sign Nick Perry and now the confirmation that the Packers will continue with Jones’ multitasking role, it could be another sign that the team is moving on from Neal, who remains unsigned.
McCarthy on Raji: Last week, defensive tackle B.J. Raji announced he was stepping away from professional football for a year to be around his family; his mother is on dialysis and an aunt is battling breast cancer. McCarthy thinks he’ll play again and wasn’t concerned about how 12 months away from the game would impact Raji.
“I think we’ve all seen B.J. grow up in Green Bay and really the way he’s matured with some of the things he’s done the last couple of years, he’s very self-conscious and his working out and things he does away from the facility the last couple of years,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think that’s a major concern. Who knows what’s going to happen in the next 12 months.”
More positive reports on Lacy: When the Packers begin their offseason program next month, McCarthy expects to see a slimmer and trimmer Eddie Lacy.
“If he stays the course, yeah, definitely,” McCarthy said. “So far, so good.”
After back-to-back seasons of 1,130-plus rushing yards and a total of 20 rushing touchdowns to start his career, Lacy rushed for 758 yards and three scores last season. After the season, McCarthy minced few words in saying Lacy needed to shape up. At the Scouting Combine, McCarthy shot down a report that Lacy had been told to lose 30 pounds. Whatever the message from McCarthy, Lacy apparently has taken those words to heart, as demonstrated by this viral photo.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.