FOXBOROUGH — If he wanted to, there would be plenty to look back proudly on during his rookie season. Individual awards, highlight plays, sack dances, a seasonlong impact, a trip to the AFC Championship game.
But defensive end Chandler Jones sounds like he’s only interested in looking ahead, toward his second year with the Patriots.
“In the situation that I’m in right now, my biggest thing is just to focus on this year, to be honest with you, just win football games,” Jones said Saturday, after the team’s morning practice behind Gillette Stadium.
“I’m excited to tackle my second year, I’m excited to go into this next year with a year of experience, I can be more comfortable doing what I’m doing. I’m ready to go.”
Jones hit the ground running as a rookie after being selected by the Patriots with the 21st pick in the first round. He was the AFC rookie of the month for September, forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the opener at Tennessee and had a two-sack game at Seattle in October, one-third of his six-sack total.
At 6 feet 5 inches and 260 pounds, Jones is big enough and quick enough to beat a slower offensive lineman and disrupt an opponent’s passing game.
Despite missing parts of three games with an ankle injury (he actually injured both ankles at different points of the season, including an aggravation prior to the AFC Championship game), Jones finished second on the team in sacks, behind Rob Ninkovich’s eight.
The 23-year-old from Syracuse will be expected to lead the Patriots’ pass-rushing effort again this year, an area of the defense that has improved but can always be better. The Patriots were right in the middle of the league rankings in sacks last season, tied for 15th with 37; the defensive line was credited with 28.
A few members of last season’s defensive line who contributed to those 28 sacks — Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Trevor Scott — are no longer with the team. New Patriots such as Tommy Kelly, Michael Buchanan, and a handful of others are hoping to secure contributing roles.
“The defensive line as a whole, we’re working hard and just want to win football games,” Jones said. “A lot of things change, you’ve got to look at things differently. Just keep working.”
Jones also vows to be an even better teammate.
“Now that I have a year under my belt in the NFL, my biggest thing is trying to help everyone, try to be that player that helps everyone, make sure everyone’s on the same page, make sure everyone’s got it, just be that helpful player,” Jones said. “That’s who I want to be.”
There can be a learning curve in the NFL for first-year players, even first-round picks. But Jones played at a high level from the very first week, finishing with 48 tackles and a team-high 12 quarterback pressures. He didn’t have any interceptions, but he picked off Tim Tebow Friday in the opening practice of training camp.
If Jones learned one thing as a rookie, it’s focusing on his job and not paying attention to what anyone outside the locker room has to say about his play.
“Life in the NFL is as I thought it would be, to be honest with you,” Jones said. “I just try to stay levelheaded. You’ll go through weeks and you’ll be playing different games. If you play bad, if you play good, you’re never doing as good as people say you’re doing, and you’re never doing as bad as people say you’re doing. So, I try to stay levelheaded.”