In 2009, Raji was hampered by an ankle sprain early in the season. Jones had a similar experience last year when he sprained an ankle in the first preseason game.
An ankle sprain for a defensive lineman hurts in a number of ways. Obviously it affects your leg strength and your quickness. It also makes it much tougher to get leverage over an offensive lineman.
Raji had a so-so rookie season in 2009, as he had 25 tackles and just one sack. However, with one year under his belt in the 3-4 defense utilized by Dom Capers, Raji had 39 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2010. That was also the year the Packers ended up winning Super Bowl XLV.
The Packers hope the same thing occurs with Jones. No. 95 looked excellent and was causing havoc in the trenches in the OTAs, minicamp and early in training camp last summer. Then came the ankle sprain versus the Cardinals in the first preseason game.
The injury definitely hindered his play for a while. When it was all said and done, Jones had just 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2013.
Much more was expected from Jones, to be sure.
Jones certainly caught my eye with his performance at the 2013 Senior Bowl. I was impressed so much by Jones that I had the Packers taking the former UCLA star in my final mock draft last year.
It wasn't just Jones' performance at the Senior Bowl, either. Jones had a great senior year with the Bruins, where he had 62 tackles, a whopping 19 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two blocked kicks.
Add to that his great performance at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds and put up 29 reps on the bench press.
The Packers were thrilled that they were able to draft Jones.
General manager Ted Thompson was quite pleased with the selection, as he talked about Jones via Packers.com:
We added another good athlete and a guy with a little bit more speed. When you can add a little speed to the defense, we feel it's a good idea."
"That speed can come in handy. He's explosive off the line of scrimmage. He's got the ability to close on the ball. He's a good-looking kid. He's an athletic guy.
The Packers want to see that same explosiveness from Jones in 2014. And Jones might just be able to show it to them, too.
The key is staying healthy. The Packers will also have a number of players who can assist Jones in rushing the passer. That list includes Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Nick Perry and Carl Bradford.
Peppers, Neal, Perry and perhaps Bradford will also be used as hybrid players—players who can play on the defensive line and at outside linebacker.
The depth at defensive end and at outside linebacker appears to be good, so the players should be able to stay fresh while being used on a rotational basis.
Not counting Bradford, the other five players I mentioned had a combined 30 sacks last season. There would have been more had Matthews and Perry not missed five games apiece.
So the Packers should be able to do what all successful defenses under Capers do, which is rush the passer with effectiveness.
With good health and some help from his teammates, Jones looks to have a very nice sophomore year in the NFL doing just that.
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