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Debo is back on the go-go-go

Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones (45) walks off the field against the New Orleans Saints during the first half Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Atlanta.
Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones (45) walks off the field against the New Orleans Saints during the first half Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, in Atlanta.

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones playing like he never left

Something wasn’t quite right last weekend as Deion Jones was finally about to play again only to find himself oddly unsettled as the Falcons prepared to take on the Ravens.

In retrospect, he can psychoanalyze what happened, but before he had the benefit of looking back after missing 10 games with a broken foot, Jones’ subconscious wondered if he still had it, if he still had the wheels, the instincts, the verve that made him a Pro Bowl middle linebacker a year ago in his second pro season.

Jones doesn’t normally get jitters, and maybe that’s not what he had, but something was off.

“I felt like I was pretty good until game day, getting ready for a game like I always would during the week. That’s the only time I really had that problem,” he said of game day. “Not really like nervous, just anxious to go. I want to be out there. I love to play ball. That’s what I do.”

He played some ball, all right, unless you want to criticize a career-high 15 combined tackles and assists and his second career sack – which is significant because the Falcons rarely blitz him because he’s considered one of the NFL’s best coverage linebackers.

There may be at first an inclination to say that nobody was surprised that he played well, but the truth is that after Jones worked so very well and so many times – he was in on 64 of 81 defensive snaps taken (79 percent) and four special-teams plays.

“It was huge,” defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said. “We talked about it prematurely the last few weeks ... but I’ll put it like (safety Demontae) Kazee, (who said) ‘He was everywhere.’

“ ... Just a blessing. I always tell the guys (that) we get graced abundantly, but he came back and we were thinking 30 to maybe 40 (plays), and he ended up playing a little more than that and having 15 tackles. It was just Deion out there playing football. It encouraged the guys.”

Coaches were pleased as well, and not just because speedy No. 45 gives Manuel more options as a play-caller. There is Jones’ “ability to get guys on the ground, to get us lined up and then inspire us ... being able to do things on third down that we couldn’t do prior.”

Jones brings juice, and beyond the plays that he makes himself, coach Dan Quinn said there is, “his ability to communicate pre-snap and the energy he brings to the other guys. ... Those don’t show up on the stats sheet, but they show up a lot.”

The Falcons allowed Baltimore’s offense a modest 19 points, and while the Ravens’ interior run game was problematic, the visitors managed almost nothing when rushing wide and very little in the passing game.

And that wasn’t just Debo running sideline to sideline. The dude from LSU with the big smile is some kind of radioactive.

“It’s like vibes he gives off. It’s contagious,” said rookie linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, who added nine tackles. “Like, somebody has high energy, it’s going to rub off on the next person, and before you know it it’s rubbing off on the entire team.”

Jones’ energy is organic, not contrived but rather derived.

“That’s just me playing fast for the guys. I know they’re out there scrapping, so I have to scrap also,” he said. “Just sticking to my process, doing what I know.”

Debo knows plenty, and Manuel sure likes that, even if Jones doesn’t always take time to listen to him.

Come game day, he senses what opposing offenses want to do and what he and his mates have to do to throw a wrench.

So, when you see him flapping his arm(s) in the downtime between plays, know that’s Jones, “Just waving me off like, ‘I got it,’” Manuel said. “He only needs to hear a few words (to make calls on the field).”

Jones is a bigger, meaner version of injured free safety Ricardo Allen, who when healthy is the Falcons’ primary quarterback on defense. Normally, that would leave Jones like a center making line calls on the other side like a secondary signal-caller.

With Jones back, the hierarchy tilts as Kazee will not be counted upon as much as Allen would be to set everybody straight, and the radio headset has moved from De’Vondre Campbell to Debo.

The middle linebacker sews everything together, and his vibes push pace.

“Absolutely, without a doubt,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “Energy is definitely transferrable, and communication is so big in this game. Somebody who has experience like he has, and knowledge like he has, it definitely helps.”

It’s helping Jones to be back. He started going a little nuts recently when, after returning to practice about four weeks ago, there was a chance he might suit up for games against Dallas and at New Orleans, only to keep building his way back.

“It was fun coming back. It was just a matter of going out there and playing fast, knocking the rust off early, and getting into my style of play,” he said. “There was a lot of emotion involved. I was a little more amped up being on the side, watching my guys. ... I always had the fire. It’s just been built up for a couple games.”

Jones is lit now, and defenders are happy to gather ’round the flame.

“It’s just nice having that commanding voice,” Oluokun said. “Everybody’s a little more comfortable in what they’re doing. ... It’s just nice to know he’s getting to the ball and bringing energy out there.”