You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Jones could be cornerstone of resurgence on defense


With the cupboard stacked at LSU, linebacker Deion Jones, the key figure in the Falcons’ revamp of their linebacker corps, had to wait his turn.

The New Orleans native, whom the Falcons selected in the second round (52nd overall) of the NFL draft, spent his time on special teams until he hit the field and had a breakthrough season in 2015.

There were tough times, when he thought he’d never crack the lineup.

“It was really locking in and being patient,” Jones admitted. “When I got my time, I made the best of it.”

Last season, he started 12 games after Kwon Alexander left and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jones was a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker, while becoming the Tigers’ leading tackler and defensive MVP.

As NFL offensive attacks have spread the field while leaning heavily on the passing game, team’s need faster linebackers who can stop the run and cover in space.

Jones is a shade under 6-foot-1 and he’s up to 230 pounds. He’s already talked to Alexander, who had a stellar All-Rookie season for the Bucs, about making the jump to the NFL.

“Just continue to play with that fire, continue to play with intensity, and also have fun out there,” Jones said of Alexander’s message. “You know, the plays will come.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn is moving Jones to middle linebacker, where he’ll have to beat out Paul Worrilow, the team’s leading tackler over the past three seasons. There’s a clear path to the field for Jones if he can cover running backs on third-down situations. Worrilow was a liability in pass coverage last season, as opposing quarterbacks had a 104.6 passer rating throwing in his direction.

Jones ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at LSU’s Pro Day and has the speed to keep up with running backs. Quinn has repeatedly talked about getting faster on defense this offseason.

Jones believes he can cover NFL running backs coming out of the backfield.

“Yes, I think I have the skill set to help (out on) running backs,” Jones said. “We did a lot of that with the running back pattern and a lot of man-to-man (at LSU).”

He played mostly weakside linebacker in college. The Falcons also have LaRoy Reynolds on the roster at middle linebacker.

“The linebacker can run,” a high-ranking AFC personnel executive told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The kid from LSU can flat out run. He’s a run-and-chase player. He’s not the most instinctive guy in the world, but he can run and make plays in space.

“The problem with that, him being a run-and-chase player is that he has to have defensive linemen keep him clean, and they don’t have those kind of defensive linemen.”

The Falcons are confident that Jones has the ability to get off blocks and continue to flow to the ball. General manager Thomas Dimitroff repeatedly discussed his ability to “scrape.”

“For Deion Jones, first off, the run-and-hit factor is totally alive,” Quinn said. “He’s an all-downs linebacker for us. Match up, running backs, tight ends. Now, the three-deep (zone) that we play, the ability to close and tackle in space is critical to playing inside ’backer in this spot.”

The Falcons are fine with Jones having made only 12 SEC starts over his 51-game career.

“I really went back through all these games this year, and we also went back through (all of) the games, Thomas and I did, the year before,” Quinn said. “I think the ability of what we saw … totally jumped out on tape. It was the speed, the tackling, the physicality that he played with, and we knew we wanted to add that to our group.”

The Falcons like Jones’ hitting ability, too.

“When you’re playing at linebacker and you’re playing this much three-deep (zone) and you’re playing in space, you’d better have the ability to close and then get there with some nasty demeanor, and he certainly fits that,” Quinn said.

Jones did miss part of the Syracuse game after he was suspended for targeting against Auburn.

“I mean, the referee made a good call,” Jones said. “It was close, and you know, he had to call it. He was just doing his job.”

Jones has five sacks at LSU, but the Falcons aren’t counting on him to help the pass rush as a blitzer.

“They didn’t blitz him a lot, but he did have some (tackles for losses),” Quinn said. “He is a sideline-to-sideline player for sure, and I think that shows up in the speed and the physicality that he plays with.”

As Dimitroff and Quinn examined various videos of Jones, his striking ability and coverage skills stood out for them.

“Certainly (he) fits all the needs that we want, too, at that spot,” Quinn said.

The Falcons don’t feel that Jones’ instincts are lacking.

“That part of the game for him is on point in terms of being classically trained there (at linebacker),” Quinn said. “He sees things. For sure when he sees it, he goes and gets it.

“I think that totally showed up on the tape this year, the tackles that he had, the physicality that he played with. So he was somebody that kind of checked the boxes, so to speak, in terms of all the things that we looked for (in a linebacker).”

Jones now looks at not playing early during his career at LSU as an asset.

“I think I’m really fresh,” Jones said. “I don’t have a lot of injuries that some guys have after multiple years. I think I have a lot of miles left on me.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Falcons

12 things we learned about the Falcons this offseason
12 things we learned about the Falcons this offseason

Shortly after releasing the team for the summer, Falcons coach Dan Quinn and team officials went to Washington, D.C. to visit to various military related places. It was a busy and compacted offseason for the Falcons, who reached the Super Bowl for just the second time in franchise history. After suffering the most devastating loss in the history of...
Julio Jones is focus of Pat Dye Jr.-Jimmy Sexton lawsuit
Julio Jones is focus of Pat Dye Jr.-Jimmy Sexton lawsuit

Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones is the center of a lawsuit between Pat Dye Jr. and Jimmy Sexton, according to AL.com. It’s possible, if the civil suit continues into the fall, that Jones may be called to a disposition to give his testimony during the season. Dye, of Atlanta, and Sexton, of Memphis, merged firms in 2010...
Falcons not hosting ‘Friday Night Lights’ scrimmage
Falcons not hosting ‘Friday Night Lights’ scrimmage

For the first time in 11 seasons, the Falcons will not hold the wildly successful ‘Friday Night Lights’ scrimmage during training camp, the team announced on Wednesday. The Falcons, the defending NFC champions, will report for training camp on Wednesday, July 26. The team has gone into the community for a scrimmage at local high schools...
Allen: Defense ‘is going to be amazing’
Allen: Defense ‘is going to be amazing’

Kicked to the curb just three years ago, Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen has successfully made the transition from cornerback to free safety and is now an entrenched NFL starter. He played 1,101 defensive snaps (99.1 percent), most on the team last season, in just his second year at free safety. Drafted as a cornerback in the fifth-round of the 2014...
Falcons report for training camp on July 26
Falcons report for training camp on July 26

The defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons will report for training camp on July 26, the team announced on Wednesday. Training camp will be held at the team’s facilities in Flowery Branch for the 13th consecutive season. Selected practices will be open to the public, but there is not a “Friday Night Lights” event listed. The team...
More Stories