FOXBOROUGH — For rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, doubts centered mostly around his strength. That weakness, it was thought, might keep him off the field, especially at the start of the season. Although he wasn’t quite a “project” pick, he was a pick who needed work, with an eye toward him filling the “elephant” role that requires strength, intelligence, and quickness.
It seems some of that work has been done.
“No matter what I do, people are always going to question my ability,” said Jones, taken with the 21st overall pick out of Syracuse. “No one can believe in you except for yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, then who will? For the people saying you’re not ready or you’re not strong enough, there’s always going to be critics. That’s what they do.”
And there were certainly critics. Scouts talked about the improvement that needed to happen before Jones could seriously contribute. While those issues haven’t been erased, Jones has looked impressive in training camp.
Jones is ahead of where he was expected at this point, which has been a pleasant surprise for the Patriots. He has done well in one-on-one drills, and looks poised to make an impact.
Asked if he came into camp with all the moves he has demonstrated in drills, Jones said, “I’ve known of the moves, I’ve seen them done before. But my job right now is just to polish my craft, and every day I’m trying to work on each and every move, so I can have two or three moves to perfect, and hopefully you’ll see them on Sundays.”
As for the elephant, that becomes more of an issue with the Patriots not having re-signed Andre Carter and having lost Mark Anderson to Buffalo. Jones knows he’ll need to do whatever the Patriots want, whether that’s the elephant position or not. As Jones said, “If coach Bill Belichick says, ‘Chandler stand up,’ I’m going to stand up. If he says, ‘Chandler get in the three-point stance,’ I’ll get in the three-point stance.”
Of course, training camp is not the season. Still, it seems that Jones has shown up closer to ready than many expected on draft night, perhaps even in terms of strength.
“As far as strength, I’m not really worried,” said Jones, who was not quite up to par on some tests at the combine. “What I’m trying to do right now is learn this playbook and be a sponge and just move this defense forward.”
The playbook is a work in progress. Jones said he’s trying to learn as much as he can as fast as he can, adding new information constantly. That would help him make a quick impact, he hopes.
Which would be welcome. The Patriots struggled mightily on defense last season — 31st in total yards and passing yards allowed — and spent the bulk of their draft picks on defensive players to help make up for their deficiencies.
But Jones is not thinking about what happened last year. He wasn’t here. He didn’t pay attention. He can only help the current defense. And he wants an opportunity to help as early as possible.
“What I’m doing, to be honest with you, I’m just treating every day like it’s game day,” Jones said. “I’m just taking a day at a time and letting those days stack, and stringing them together.
“If I’m not walking off the field and I’m not exhausted, then I’m not doing my job.”
Jones noted that he’s trying to earn respect from the veterans and impress the coaches enough that he gets minutes once the regular season comes around.
With all the hard work, there is fun, too. Jones barely stopped smiling throughout his session with reporters on the field Wednesday night after the Patriots practiced in Gillette Stadium. And that has held true through practices, too, with Jones saying he “never stops smiling. Never.”
“I had a dream,” Jones said, “and my dream was always to play in the NFL, and now that I have this opportunity I’m going to take advantage of it.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.