Published August 02, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Defensive end Datone Jones feels he's been moving fast during the first week of training camp for the Green Bay Packers.
His coaches can vouch for that.
"You can see the talent," coach Mike McCarthy said. "The thing I've been most impressed with is his ability to close that line of scrimmage. He can really run. You can see the quickness."
The team's top rookie gives some of the credit to four weeks of working out back home in Southern California. His intensive training with dozens of other fellow NFL players included mixed martial arts, and Jones is seeing the benefits from having an opportunity to spar with a few of the top MMA fighters, including retired champion Chuck Liddell.
"Hand and eye coordination, leverage, punches, your strike, just everything," Jones said Thursday. "It helps (with) releasing and getting off blocks more aggressively . and your conditioning. I started doing it in college. It helped me out my senior year really well, so I was like I'm not going to go away from it now."
The 6-foot-4 Jones strong-armed the opposition at UCLA last season. He led the Bruins' defensive linemen with a career-high 62 tackles and ranked fifth in the Pac-12 with 19 tackles for loss, including 6½ sacks.
Now only if Jones could chase down Aaron Rodgers out on the field. The first-round draft pick has been wowed by what the team's star quarterback can pull off even in practice.
"Practicing against Aaron Rodgers is tough," Jones said. "That's the hardest game I've ever played, and it was at practice."
Jones has befriended Rodgers, the Packers' first-round draft choice in 2005 who is now the team's longest-tenured active player.
"I talk to Aaron Rodgers a lot," Jones said. "I told him one time, I almost intercepted one of his passes, and he was like, 'No, I saw you the whole time.' I was like, 'You weren't even looking at me.' He said, 'Trust me, I know your assignment before you even did it.' I was like, 'This guy is incredible.'"
High praise already is being heaped on the 23-year-old Jones, especially after the pads went on for the first time in training camp Sunday.
"He's very athletic," said Morgan Burnett, the fourth-year starting safety. "He's got a lot of energy. We practice guys pursuing to the ball, but there's times where you're chasing the ball down field and you look, 'Oh, there's big (number) 95 right there.' He has a lot of energy, he's learning quickly, and the future is bright for him."
His coaches see plenty of upside with the versatile Jones, the 26th overall pick.
"I like his size, and I like his athletic ability," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He's a big guy that gives you flexibility. I think he can do a number of things. I think he's strong enough that he can play in the middle to (take on a) block and play the run game, yet I think he'll win some one-on-one battles in rushing the passer.
"The way the game is now, because people spread you out so much and you've got a lot more receivers on the field, you've got more athletic quarterbacks, you better have athletic guys who can rush and can win one-on-one and can go get the quarterback once they beat a block."
About 10 pounds heavier than his playing weight in college, the 294-pound Jones has been lining up in a number of special-teams segments, including kickoff coverage.
"He can run," McCarthy said. "He's a major match-up problem, but we'll work him as a backup. I don't see that as a primary role for Datone. But he has a unique skill set."