Packers draft UCLA DE Datone Jones at No. 26
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Datone Jones didn't need a debriefing. The former UCLA defensive end already knew all about the Green Bay Packers and the guy who, years ago, played his position best.
Talk about a good way to introduce himself to his new fan base. Jones brought up Reggie White unprompted in describing his relentless style of play.
The Packers selected Jones with the 26th pick in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night, addressing one of their positions in greatest need of an upgrade with a 6-foot-4, 280-pound player who can move all over the line and has a penchant for making big plays behind it.
Jones had 19 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks for UCLA in a breakout season in 2012 as a fifth-year senior. With an athletic build and a basketball background, the lifelong Los Angeles native didn't start playing football until his sophomore season at Compton High School. He sat out the 2010 season because of a broken foot but bounced back from the injury. He even received UCLA's Captain Don Brown Award for the team's most improved player.
On a conference call with reporters, Jones said he actually rooted for the Packers (plus the New York Giants) growing up. He admired White, the late Pro Football Hall of Fame pass rusher, from afar.
"Reggie White played one way: with maniacal effort and just with complete hunger, no matter who he lined up against," said Jones, who described the excitement he felt when he saw his name next to the Packers on his TV screen: "I almost fainted, man. This is like a dream come true."
Jones has a combination of quickness and strength that should give Green Bay a valuable run-stopper and pass-rusher up front, an area of weakness exposed down the stretch last season. General manager Ted Thompson praised the versatility of Jones, who will wear No. 95. Jones was the fourth defensive end taken, thanks in part to a splurge on offensive linemen around the league, and enticing enough to steer Thompson away from his past penchant for trading down for more middle-round picks.
"We were pretty surprised the opportunity was there," Thompson said.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers spoke highly of his athleticism and acceleration off the snap. Jones isn't hefty enough to play nose tackle on a regular basis, but he can ably move to the inside spot on obvious passing downs, when the Packers use their nickel or dime defenses. Capers also suggested Jones could play the outside linebacker spot in certain situations.
"It's become more of a space game," Capers said. "Any time you're spread out and you're going to cover space, the quicker and faster you are, the better you're going to be, probably."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers used Twitter to welcome Jones to Wisconsin shortly after the pick was made.
"Bring your warmest jacket," Rodgers tweeted. "Winter is coming."
Jones said he actually played in five snowy games in his career.
"It never bothered me," he said, adding: "I just can't wait. I'm playing with a great team."
With their 3-4 defense, the down linemen for the Packers aren't as central to the scheme as in a 4-3 system, like when White, Gilbert Brown, Santana Dotson and Sean Jones dominated up front during their 1996 Super Bowl season. That doesn't mean the Packers could afford to ignore this position group, though. Far from it. That much became painfully clear to the front office, coaches, players and fans last fall and once winter arrived.
They were 26th out of 32 in the NFL last season in yards allowed per rushing attempt at 4.5. In two December games against rival Minnesota, league MVP award winner Adrian Peterson totaled 409 yards to help the Vikings split those crucial matchups. The Packers got in his way a little better in their playoff game at Lambeau Field, though an early deficit forced the Vikings away from their standard plan of pounding Peterson into the line.
But then came San Francisco. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran the read option all over the Packers and their front seven, running for two touchdowns and 181 yards, a quarterback record for a playoff game. Frank Gore tacked on 119 more yards.
Nose tackle B.J. Raji, a first-round pick in 2009, has entered the final year of his contract. Left end Ryan Pickett, also in the last season of his deal, will be 34 in October. Right end Jerel Worthy, a second-round draft pick last year, suffered a major knee injury in the regular season finale and is months away from being ready to play again.
Other ends C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels, all draft picks between 2010 and 2012, haven't done much yet to distinguish themselves from the pack. Nose tackle Johnny Jolly was recently signed to see if he can recover from drug problems to help strengthen the middle, but he hasn't played since 2009.
"I like the whole group," Thompson said, adding: "Our veterans will determine the fate of our team, but adding another good athlete, got a little bit more speed. Trying to add a little more speed to the defense, we think is a good idea."
The Packers entered this draft, the ninth under Thompson, with eight picks. They have the 55th and 88th overall selections in the second and third rounds on Friday night.
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