Secret Superstar: Jason Jones, Tennessee Titans

| March 15, 2011

Jeff Fisher? Resigned. Vince Young? On his way out. Bud Adams? Well he’s still there at least. In any case, it’s been a tumultuous season for the Tennessee Titans.

It started off promisingly enough as their defense pushed them to a 5-2 record. Unfortunately, it went south from there and they lost their last nine games. From being a stable franchise with playoff aspirations, there was suddenly a massive air of uncertainty about the Titans.

The good news is there are some players in Tennessee that are better than you’d think. So, in one of the more contentious pieces in this series (as my colleagues debate if he’s actually that much of a secret,) we’re looking at a defensive tackle with a penchant for getting up field.

That’s right, it’s time to tell you all just how good Jason Jones really is.

Conversion

Jones isn’t one of the bigger defensive tackles in the league. Listed somewhere around the 275-pound mark, there are defensive ends who carry more weight. He played defensive end in college, and the general belief was that he’d be an end in the NFL, in whichever alignment he landed in. So, logically, he would be the Titans’ long term replacement for either Kyle vanden Bosche or Javon Kearse, right?

Wrong. The Titans saw something else in Jones, opting to move him inside to defensive tackle. To say Jones was unprepared for this task would be something of an understatement.

There were some good games in 2008 (the week 16 sack-happy performance against Pittsburgh, most notably) and he played with enough burst to yield more than his fair share of pressure. That it only took him 13.85 snaps to register each of those pressures was impressive (the first DT off the board, Glenn Dorsey, was getting one every 52.25 snaps).

His play in run defense, on the other hand, was about as bad as anything we saw – it earned the second lowest grade we gave out that year. It was pretty clear that Jones lacked the size and power to be a success in this regard.

Baby steps

Year two for Jones rolled around and we waited to be proven wrong. Unfortunately for those of us looking for that answer, Jones only got on the field for 245 defensive snaps. Not the biggest of sample sizes, though in that time he was nowhere near the liability we’d seen him to be as a rookie. He still looked better suited for a situational role (he was now picking up a pressure on every 9.71 pass rushes) but his improvement against the run was evident.

With Jovan Haye falling flat as a free agent bust, it wasn’t surprising to see Jones move into the starting line-up in 2010. After questioning his ability to hold up to the strains of playing defensive tackle, it was a pleasant surprise to see Jones on the field for 678 snaps (a number bettered by only 16 defensive tackles). Not bad, especially when taking into account how the Titans rotate their defensive line personnel.

Mission number one was complete: he had earned more snaps, but we needed to see something more from him when on the field.

Rounding out

On the surface of things, you’d like him to have more than four sacks (we don’t recognize half sacks,) but as we always say, there’s more to life than sacking the QB. There weren’t many better than Jones at putting pressure on the quarterback. The former First Team All-MAC performer was getting pressure on 9.17% of all defensive plays (eighth among defensive tackles,) proving more than a handful for interior linemen who couldn’t deal with his explosiveness.

To some degree, this would be expected. Carrying less weight than most defensive tackles, he should be flying past the comparably sluggish guards and centers of the NFL. Conversely, you’d also expect him to be driven out of running lanes on a regular basis because he is so keen on getting up the field, but that didn’t happen.

Aggressive enough to penetrate, but disciplined enough not to sacrifice his run responsibilities, Jones ended the year with a positive grade in run defense. From being one of the worst run defenders we’d ever seen in his rookie year, Jones was ranked in our top twenty just two seasons later. That he did it without his pass rushing missing a beat (he earned our highest grade for a DT in pass rushing), is a testament to his development.

A question remains

We’re pretty sure we’re not the only ones who know about Jones. It will be a long time before Trai Essex forgets him after being treated like a blocking dummy, and after the beating he handed them, the right side of the Chargers’ line are grateful to not face him again soon. Then there’s Denver’s group who were helpless to stop him from shooting gaps and making plays in every facet of the game.

Simply put, there were times when Jones was near unstoppable.

His problem now is with consistency. Indeed, at times, especially during the second half of the season, he was anything but unstoppable. Was it the result of a lingering injury? Or were teams just more prepared for him? It’s something to watch out for in 2011, because there was a noticeable drop in pressure and penetration from Jones over the last eight week of the season – when the entire Titans team was fading.

Ultimately, if Jones can stay healthy for a full season, there’s no telling what he could do. As one of the quickest defensive tackles around, he’s just too fast for most guards and centers. And, though his sack count may not reflect it, the pressure up the middle that makes life so hard for quarterbacks is there and then some.

In a 2011 where we do have football, this is a secret that can only be kept for so long.

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