Asked Wednesday by a reporter who else besides cornerback Brandon Underwood falls under the category of most improved from Year 1 to Year 2, coach Mike McCarthy barely hesitated.
"Oh, I think Brad Jones jumps out at me," he said.
Jones was one of the more active players at Wednesday's organized team activity. During the team period near the end of practice, he was punched by tackle Breno Giacomini during a scuffle that knocked off Jones' helmet. No one was injured, however, as the brief skirmish was quickly broken up by teammates.
"It's football. Fights happen, you know," shrugged Jones. "There's always fights. It's the job I'm in."
A year ago, Jones was in a fight of a much different kind. After being selected by the Packers in the seventh round of the draft, he found himself on the physically unable to perform list for nearly three weeks of training camp after injuring his back in a conditioning test. When he returned, he showed enough of a knack for rushing the passer over the final three preseason games to earn a roster spot.
This year, his offseason thought process is entirely different.
"You get to OTAs and you're swimming," said Jones of being a rookie. "You're mentally trying to figure out just what you're doing. I think this year it's completely different. I know what I'm doing. It's just about tweaking your game and making everything better."
After a quiet first half of the 2009 season, Jones got the chance to start in November because of two injuries to Aaron Kampman. The second, a season-ending torn ACL, gave Jones the starting job for the rest of the season. Jones finished with 31 tackles and four sacks in seven starts — not bad for the 218th overall pick.
"It's crazy to look back on, but I don't think I was surprised," said Jones. "You always have confidence in yourself. I think everybody out here has confidence or else they wouldn't be here. It was a whirlwind, but it was a fun ride I guess. And now it's just all about being the best. It's not about making the team."
Such comments show that Jones feels he will be the starter again. For now, that job is certainly his in the Packers' base defense. Kampman has departed via free agency to Jacksonville and last year's starter at the beginning of training camp, Jeremy Thompson, has retired due to a neck injury. The only other veteran on the roster is Brady Poppinga (sixth year) among a depth chart that includes four undrafted rookie free agents.
Outside of Clay Matthews, Jones is the Packers' best option as a pass rusher off the edge. Even though he gave adequate production in that area in 2009, some people are concerned he might not be up to the task. McCarthy is not one of those people.
"I think you need to look at the whole picture," said McCarthy. "I think you need to look at the depth of the defensive line. You've got some young players in here that are going to have an opportunity. Also we have some inside linebackers that have pass-rush ability. We're in Year 2 of our defensive system. I feel very good about the added personnel groups and the added combination of different personnel utilization that Dom (Capers) and the defensive staff have come up with. I feel our numbers are very good as far as that defensive front, not just concentrating solely on the outside linebacker position."
As for stopping the run, Jones is preparing to do his part. Though he was far from a liability as a rookie, he has added some bulk to his frame, which should serve him well. Jones was listed at 239 last year — position coach Kevin Greene has said Jones played at about 230 by season's end — giving up nearly 100 pounds to some opposing tackles. By comparison, Matthews and Poppinga are 250. Many of the top outside linebackers in the NFL who play in 3-4 schemes fall between 250 and 265 pounds.
Jones would not say Wednesday how much weight he has added. Instead, he said he will use the offseason camps to determine what weight he is comfortable playing at. In any case, he is encouraged by the fact that the team passed on an outside linebacker in April's draft.
"Yeah, definitely," said Jones. "I always think about it as I'm competing all the time, even with myself. It's always gives you some confidence when you feel like they have confidence in you."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org