The Green Bay Packers only can hope to get the same sort of production out of the linebacker they drafted out of Colorado in April — beginning with his first NFL start on Sunday against Dallas.
Seventh-round pick Brad Jones did it all for the Buffaloes in their 3-4 scheme, excelling both in pass coverage and as a pass rusher. The Packers have seen those tools on the practice field, and Capers sees Jones in the same light as that guy from Colorado he coached a decade-and-a-half ago, Chad Brown.
"I think he's got some naturalness rushing the passer," Capers said on Friday. "Some of the good pass rushers have flexibility in their body where they can kind of contort their body. They can get skinny, get their hips around, get their shoulders by a guy, and those are the things that I noticed about Chad Brown when he first came to the Steelers. I've seen some of those same types of things with Brad in terms of his rush ability."
Jones, who had seven sacks as a senior, is being thrust into the lineup due to injuries to stalwart Aaron Kampman (concussion) and veteran Brady Poppinga (quad). Jones ranks third on the team with eight tackles on special teams but he hasn't played a snap on defense this season.
That play covering kicks was enough to give Jones the nod over second-year pro Jeremy Thompson, who spent much of the offseason as the starter at the right outside spot currently manned by rookie Clay Matthews III.
"Normally, good defensive players that are perimeter players, you put them on special teams, they show up on special teams," Capers said. "Because it's the same type of thing — you've got to be able to break down, you've got to be able to make plays in space, you've got to have a feel for going to the ball with leverage angles, those types of things. Brad's done well to this point. We'll give him an opportunity to see what he can do on Sunday."
Rookie LB Brad Jones.
Mike Roemer/AP Images
"I'd be excited if they let me just stand on the sidelines and hand out water," he told a gaggle of reporters. "I get excited just being able to make an impact on special teams. Any little chance I get, any little opportunity they give me to shine, my excitement goes through the roof."
As a seventh-round draft pick at the Packers' deepest position, Jones was anything but a sure bet to make the final roster. The odds of making the team took a hit when he failed his training camp physical because of a back injury that kept him out of the first preseason game.
He returned in time to face Buffalo in the second preseason game, and he made an immediate impact with a sack and forced fumble.
In the three months since then, linebackers coach Kevin Greene said Jones has improved his technique and become more physical as a pass rusher. Jones played a lot of pass coverage at Colorado and Capers thinks he'll be fine in that area for the Packers, even though he hasn't done much of it the last couple months because of his role on the scout team.
"You come in as a seventh-round draft pick, you miss quite a bit of the training camp to start out, which puts you behind, and then you have to go out there and battle and do something that catches the coaches' eye," Capers said. "And I think he's done that with his special teams play. When we've put him in there, you'll see something and you'll say, ‘That looks pretty good.' Hopefully, we see some of that on Sunday."
The Packers desperately need to see some of that on Sunday. While Kampman hasn't posted a lot of sacks — he has only 2.5 — he's far and away the team's leader in pressures and is tied for the league lead among 3-4 linebackers with 13 quarterback hits. Considering only two teams have fewer sacks than the Packers' 13, Jones has to make an impact — otherwise, Tony Romo and the Cowboys' big-play offense could be all but unstoppable. At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, Jones faces a big size disadvantage against Dallas right tackle Marc Colombo (6-8, 318), and a big disadvantage in terms of experience, too, against the eight-year pro who will be making his 55th consecutive start.
"That's exciting, but at the same time, they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like I do," Jones said.
Jones knows he's practically a nobody entering a do-or-die game for the Packers. It's not a feeling that's unfamiliar. The runner-up for state player of the year in Michigan as a senior at East Lansing High School, Jones headed west to Colorado, where he redshirted his first season before becoming a three-year starter. He had just 2.5 sacks in his first three seasons before his explosive senior campaign.
Whether he ends up being as dominant as Brown — who posted 74 sacks and played in three Pro Bowls from 1994 through 2003 — remains to be seen. Jones, however, isn't lacking in confidence.
"It's just like the transition from high school to college," Jones said. "When you go from high school, where you're the man and nobody can shine any light to you, and you get to college, and everybody was the best in high school. Then you've got to work your way up. In the NFL, everybody was the best in college. It's the same transition."
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.