Falcons’ Deion Jones ready to compete for his linebacker spot

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons former Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones returned to practice Wednesday and was sent to the back of the line at inside linebacker.

Jones had offseason surgery to clean up debris in his right shoulder that he was playing with last season. He was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list at the start of training camp.

“We are going to take the health and safety of all of our players serious,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We had a ramp-up plan. We felt good with it. He felt good with the doctors, and they cleared him. That’s why he practiced.”

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Jones took part in the joint practice with the Jaguars and got his first hits in.

“It’s going good,” Jones said. “Happy to be back out with my team. Finally getting back into it.”

The Falcons have been working with Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker as the first-team linebackers. Jones was rotating in with the third-team group Wednesday.

“It’s real, and I’ll say this, I’ll give Deion credit,” Smith said. “He’s going to come out here and compete. He’s going to work his way back in. It’s going to be hard to get on the field in that (group). That’s what you want in the competition.”

Evans played for Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees with Tennessee, and Walker was a reserve behind Jones and Foye Oluokun last season.

“Rashaan and Mykal Walker are doing a great job,” Smith said. “We have to see what Troy (Andersen) can do. (Nathan) Landman, Dorian (Etheridge), they’ve had great (exhibition games). Now, Kwit (Nick Kwiatkoski) has been a vet and then Deion. It’s going to play itself out.”

Smith believes that Jones has the right mindset for a veteran.

“But I will say this about Deion,” Smith said. “I’ll give him credit. He’s got the right mindset to come out there and prove something. He knows what he’s got to improve on from last year, and that competition is real.

“I do appreciate him. He wanted to get back, and he wanted to compete. Here it goes.”

Jones doesn’t have a problem with working his way from the back of the roster.

“Every year, I come in and compete for my spot,” Jones said. “Every year, we come in and we compete for our spots. So, I’m good with it. It is what it is.”

Jones said he didn’t place any stock in the rumors that the Falcons wanted to trade him this offseason.

“I had no question about me being back here,” Jones said. “I figured I was going to be back here. I was just getting my mindset ready and my body ready to come back.”

He said he was unaware of any trade talks.

“To be honest, I didn’t really see them,” Jones said. “I’m not on social media during the offseason. But, yeah, if I would have known something, it was something serious, (Smith) would have called me. My agent would have called me. So, other than that, I was just locked in getting my body back.”

Jones kept up with the defense while rehabbing.

“Just stayed locked in on the (installations), keeping my iPad open,” Jones said. “When they had an install (to the defense) I was in there going over the same routine. Just staying fresh on the plays.”

Jones missed one game last season as he played through the shoulder issues. He decided to get the operation early this offseason.

“It was like a wear-and-tear thing,” Jones said. “Finally, just got it done.”

He pronounced himself fit for the season.

“Feeling healthy,” Jones said. “I was just ready to get back with my team. Just working back into the process. It was a little clean-up.”

Jones doesn’t know where he’ll end up.

“To be honest, I’m learning all of the spots at linebacker right now,” Jones said. “I’m just being prepared. The more you can do, and wherever I fall is where I fall.”

Jones was the Falcons’ middle linebacker under former coach Dan Quinn. Last season he was moved to inside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment that Pees prefers.

“I definitely have a better outlook on the defense this year,” Jones said. “I had a chance to look back and figure out how I could help and where I could get better. And just being honest with myself and having a new outlook this season for getting it in, pick up where I left off.”

Jones said he had to get used to working more in space along the sidelines.

“Being outside of the formations, it’s a little different feel than being in the middle,” Jones said. “That was basically the angles, the adjustments. I feel like I’m pretty good with that now, something that I worked on during the offseason.”

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