Debut of top pick Jones is a show of strength
FOXBOROUGH — Well, hello Mr. Jones.
Hope the Patriots Pro Shop is well stocked with No. 95 jerseys.
Defensive end Chandler Jones, New England’s top draft pick at 21st overall, had about as good a debut as you can have in the Patriots’ 7-6 victory over the Saints at Gillette Stadium Thursday night in the exhibition opener.
Especially when you consider he did it in front of a fan base that has been begging for a good young pass rusher since . . . well, it seems like forever.
Looks like the Patriots have found the real deal in Jones, who is just 22 and left Syracuse a year early.
Want some pass rush?
Jones produced five quarterback pressures in 14 dropbacks.
Against the run, he held the point well enough to factor in on two stuffed runs (carries of 1 yard or less) in another 12 snaps.
That’s a total of seven impact plays in just 26 plays.
“You’ve been hearing a lot of buzz, and I thought he was as advertised,” said Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for three teams who was at the game as an NFL Network analyst. “He’s versatile, they’ve stood him up, put his hand on the ground, played stout against the run, got some pressure.
“I think people have gotten a little bit carried away trying to compare him to Jason Pierre-Paul [of the Giants], and they need to back off that. He’s not JPP; that guy’s a freak. But he’s a really good fit for this defense. It thought he looked really good.”
Jones did most of his damage against Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who is far from a stiff in his sixth season.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, which grades every player in the league, Bushrod was the eighth-best left tackle in the NFL last season. He gave up two sacks, seven hits, and 34 hurries in 16 games.
“He’s a good vet, started in big games, plays in a competitive division, so it’s impressive to be able to do that against a veteran guy,” said an NFC scout after the first half. “I think preseason for everybody is just getting used to the speed — game speed is different.
“If I’m evaluating, you don’t want to put too much stock into it or too little. You try to stack successes, and I think [Jones] had some success.”
On Jones’s first pass rush as a Patriot, he got into the chest of the 6-foot-5-inch, 315-pound Bushrod and drove him back to make Saints quarterback Drew Brees uncomfortable enough to leave the pocket.
Jones again pushed Bushrod back on third down.
On the Saints’ third possession is when Jones really started to feel comfortable. On third-and-2, he drew a holding call on Bushrod on a run.
“That call was a little questionable,” said the NFC scout.
On third-and-12, Jones was in such a position to dominate Bushrod that the tackle had no other option than to straight-up tackle Jones for another holding call.
Bushrod said he didn’t agree with either call.
“On the second one he said I was going to the ground,” Bushrod said. “He was going to the ground and I guess they thought I forced him to the ground, which I didn’t. But it is what it is. I can’t live in the past. All I can do is work with them a little bit better. First, don’t get beat inside so then I don’t have to wash him my way inside so that doesn’t happen. The call was made. I can’t overturn it, it’s not my place.”
Bushrod seemed to have trouble with the length in Jones’s 6-5, 260-pound body.
“Love the long arms and length,” said an AFC scout. “Guys like that, if you play with technique, he’s got such long arms he can initiate the contact. Generally speaking, guys with long arms, good pad level and leverage set an edge.
“That’s what you like, those long-armed guys. He looks how you want him to look. Kind of has that Mark Anderson body.”
Oh yes, Anderson. One of the guys Jones is replacing. (By the way, the other guy, free agent Andre Carter, probably shouldn’t be waiting by the phone for the Patriots to call.)
Anderson may have a quicker first step and more overall quickness, but the now-Bills end can’t hold a shoulder pad to the strength with which Jones plays.
That was actually the most impressive thing about his debut.
Those of us who have seen every practice in training camp have noted how strong Jones has played at the point of attack against the run.
That has been a huge surprise. Jones placed 37th among defensive linemen at the combine with 22 reps on the 225-pound bench press. And when he appeared at Gillette after the draft, it was impossible not to notice how skinny he was. It looked highly unlikely that he would be able to do the first job required to play every down at end for Bill Belichick: hold the edge against the run.
But when training camp rolled around, Jones was much bigger and stronger.
NFL scouts said it was widely known that Jones cut weight in the lead-up to the draft because he didn’t know what position he would play in the NFL. He wanted to be attractive to both 3-4 (at outside linebacker) and 4-3 (at end) teams. So he played the tweener role to the extreme.
Once the Patriots drafted Jones, he knew he would be playing end. So the weight and strength went back on, big time.
And he showed it off against the Saints, although Bushrod didn’t want to give the rookie too much credit.
“When you really don’t get full-speed reps against a guy — we saw no tape on him [either] — you really don’t have a rush plan for him,” Bushrod said. “He definitely looks the part. Good, physical specimen.”
Jones held the point on one run during the third series, which made running back Travaris Cadet hesitate. That allowed Kyle Love to finish the play for a 1-yard gain.
Four plays later, Jones did the same thing, and Love and Vince Wilfork cleaned it up.
Impressive, impressive strength.
“Leverage,” Jeremiah said. “He’s got length — rare length [35 ½-inch arm length]. But he knows how to use it.
“I think the family background’’ — brother John “Bones” Jones is an MMA champion, and Arthur a defensive tackle for the Ravens — “is huge. He knows how to create leverage and stay low, and that’s going to make him play a lot stronger than he really is. He was really stout out there against the run. I was really impressed.”
So was everyone else. Expect to see a lot of No. 95 jerseys in the crowd next Monday night when the Patriots host the Eagles.
Mr. Jones has arrived.