With extra study, Falcons’ Deion Jones striving for ‘flawless’ play

Deion Jones took a different approach to his offseason study habits.

With plenty of extra time to train and prepare on his own, Jones did everything needed to remain in playing shape. He also spent much more time diving into what other teams around the NFL are doing offensively. Jones has spent the past four years showcasing his athleticism as one of the NFL’s fastest middle linebackers. It’s one thing to rely on instincts and knowledge of the defense. He wanted to enhance those qualities by learning the concepts behind how offenses attack certain defensive looks.

Therefore, Jones decided to improve this aspect of his game a step further than before.

“I’m always scratching every little penny I can in this game,” Jones said. “For me, it was being more knowledgeable of what offenses are doing and stacking it to my game. Just keep finding my little inches to my game and keep growing.”

Specifically, Jones said he spent a considerable amount of time looking at what makes opposing quarterbacks successful when it comes to putting their respective offenses in rhythm. If Jones is able to attain a better feel for how an offensive play transpires, this should only improve the instincts he acts upon as a middle linebacker.

Jones credited head coach Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich and outside linebackers coach Aden Durde for helping him in this area.

“It was more watching quarterbacks, getting more involved in protections and stuff like that,” Jones said. “Just understanding how everything unfolds, understanding how offenses move. It wasn’t easy. You kind of understand it with the people we have, like (the coaches). It’s shooting questions at them and them giving me the feedback of what I can work on with that and how to advance it. It’s been cool.”

Falcons veteran Deion Jones (left) and rookie Mykal Walker (right) lead the linebackers to the next set of drills.    Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

The Falcons would love nothing more than for Jones to advance his game to a greater length. Last offseason, the franchise extended Jones to a four-year, $57 million extension, indicating the belief they have in him as one of the focal points on the defensive side of the ball. While the defense as a whole struggled during Atlanta’s 1-7 start to the 2019 season, Jones played a vital role in the 6-2 resurgence down the stretch.

Jones capped the 2019 season with a walk-off pick-six in overtime of the season finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Right guard Chris Lindstrom said that when Atlanta’s first-team units square off against each other at practice, Jones -- nicknamed “Debo” after former two-sport stars Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson -- is someone who is tough to slow down and contain. And when they relive those moments during film study, Jones’ play usually pops out on tape.

“I don’t think there’s a faster linebacker out there than Debo,” Lindstrom said. “When you’re working your combinations, if you’re not right he’s going to beat you downhill and he’s going to beat you over the top. He’s a smart player. He’s a great teammate. It’s cool to go out and work against guys like that, especially linebackers. You have to be perfect when you’re playing on the offensive line when you have linebackers like that running around. It’s a great time during practice to make sure you’re on top of everything.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom discusses his play early in training camp 2020.

Last season, Jones totaled 110 tackles and finished with five pass deflections, a fumble recovery and the aforementioned pick-six. He was able to stay healthy enough to start and finish all 16 games. Asked what he needs to improve upon this year, Jones said he wants his game to be “flawless.”

Earlier this offseason, Ulbrich mentioned there are still some areas Jones, entering his fifth NFL season, can improve upon. But in the process, he also heaped a ton of praise while expressing what kind of player he believes the 2017 Pro Bowl linebacker can eventually become.

“Deion is a guy that I think has the potential to be the best middle linebacker in the NFL,” Ulbrich said. “I really do. In this game that we play today, it’s all about matchups, it’s all about athleticism, space, a lot of grass. And he’s custom made for that because he’s got such speed and athleticism.”

After Saturday’s practice, Jones was asked if he agreed with Ulbrich’s assessment that he has the potential to be the league’s best middle linebacker. Jones didn’t seem to want to broach the topic in a major way just yet.

But as he searches for new ways to improve his game, this does appear to be something he is striving for.

“It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of grit,” Jones said. “It’s just keep looking for those inches in my game. It’ll happen.”