Falcons linebacker Deion Jones has one of the major adjustments to make of the key players on defense.
He’s going from being the signal-caller as a middle linebacker in the former 4-3 alignment to a totally different approach. In the new defensive scheme, he’s being called an “inside” linebacker in the base 3-4 defense.
But the Falcons have been clear that they’ll play multiple defensive fronts and move folks around a lot. The speedy Jones is the most likely candidate to try to win mis-matches and keep quarterbacks guessing.
“Just soaking it all in,” said Jones, who is set to enter his sixth season in the NFL. “We (have) a lot of moving pieces. A lot of different fronts and coverages that you (must) digest, new verbiage.”
Jones, who ranked second on team with 106 tackles last season, figures to be one of the players on the move.
“I’ve just been a sponge and letting it all soak in,” Jones said. “Seeing all of the different places I can line up and different places where I can help the defense.”
Falcons coach Arthur Smith believes that Jones is adjusting well.
“(It) has been good having Deion around here,” Smith said. “I can only go from my experience with Deion, but we’ve got a lot of leaders on this team, and like I said, leadership comes in all shapes and sizes and for guys to be themselves. Some guys lead by example, some guys are more verbal, but very pleased with what Deion has done so far since he’s been here.”
Since he was selected in the second round of the 2016 draft out of LSU, Jones has played in 69 games and made 67 starts. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2017.
He has recorded 512 tackles (339 solo tackles), 6.5 sacks, 11 interceptions (five touchdowns), three forced fumbles and 37 pass breakups.
With the defense struggling to mount a pass rush in 2020, Jones had a career-high and team-leading 4.5 sacks. He added eight tackles for losses and 10 quarterback hits.
Jones was a key cog in the pressure packages.
Foye Oluokun was asked to blitz a team-leading 82 times last season. Jones was asked to blitz 61 times. He was followed by rookie Mychal Walker (34) and Dante Fowler (32).
“I haven’t really thought about that,” Jones said when asked about any different responsibilities. “Just being a sponge learning everything. Learning all of the spots at linebacker. Whatever I have to do, and then we’ll figure that out as we get closer to the season.”
Jones has noticed that Smith is running a tight ship.
“I’ve seen him open up a little bit,” Jones said. “He’s strict. He straight forward. He’s not going to (make small talk) and beat around the bush. When he wants something done, you just get it done. He’s got his standards set for things, and I like it.”
While Jones noted that Smith is tough, he still has seen him sprinkle in “his own little personality with it,” Jones said. “It’s funny. I like it.”
Jones doesn’t have a favorite part to the new defense yet.
“I guess just how multiple we are,” Jones said. “We have a lot of stuff to learn. A lot of different fronts. A lot of coverages. I can do that. I like it.”
Jones believes the linebackers can be the backbone of the rebuilt defensive unit.
“The biggest thing right now is gelling together and being one group,” Jones said. “We are going to be the group to lead the defense. We are basically the quarterbacks of the (defense). As long as we gel together and are on the same page, we are going to be all right.”
Jones has been coming up with his own methods to help him memorize the defensive alignments and calls. He credited the veterans on the team when he was a rookie in 2016 with helping him learn the defense.
He’s using some of those tools to learn the new scheme.
“There are a ton of tricks,” Jones said. “The crazy thing is everyone has their own tricks. As we get together on the field and start talking about stuff, you might hear one guy say his own trick to memorize it, then in your head you are going through yours.”
Jones gave an example of how he’ll use a call to get lined up correctly.
“I really just go off the name of the call and try to see how I can maneuver it to (the point where) I can remember it,” Jones said. “So, if it was like … say the call is ‘Atlanta.’ The ‘T’ in there means set in to the tight end. It just goes either way without giving you all any information on the call.”
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