FOXBOROUGH — Earlier this week, after the Patriots’ top defensive unit kept Tom Brady and the offense out of the end zone from inside the 10-yard line, the players began to shout, “Hell no, we won’t go!”
The chant, started by Jerod Mayo, was all in fun. So, of course, defensive end Chandler Jones was among the first to add his voice.
When the special teams unit is going through half-speed work to open practice, Jones can be seen playing catch, trying to make tip-toe sideline grabs, stretching his 6-foot-5-inch frame to corral the ball while he keeps his feet down inbounds. Sometimes it works, sometimes he shows why he’s not a pass-catcher.
As strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash puts players through their warm-ups each day, Jones almost always has a smile on his face as he works at the end of the line, right next to Vince Wilfork. As the players do the sideline-to-sideline runs, Jones and Wilfork playfully race each other.
And on game days, Jones often breaks out in dance after a sack. He had 11½ last year, a team-high and the most by a Patriot since Mike Vrabel’s 12½ in 2007.
As Jones approached the reporters waiting for him Wednesday, the former Syracuse standout jokingly asked if he had anything on his face, just to make sure he wouldn’t be on camera looking less than his best.
Not surprisingly, when the first question came, a generic, “How’s camp going?” Jones said, “Camp is going amazing. I’m having a good time — I’m having a great time, actually. I’m excited for the season to start.”
He talked about how much it meant to him, the defense, and the team to have Wilfork back after missing the final 12 games and postseason last year with a torn Achilles’.
Among other things, Wilfork is someone who keeps the game enjoyable. Being able to laugh a little bit is especially helpful during training camp.
“We just try to make it fun,” Jones said. “You said the chant that we were doing — it’s just fun. You have days of camp and you go out there, and you go out there , and you don’t know what day it is and you’re just in that camp lifestyle, so when you do little things like that, everyone’s laughing and smiling and it makes the day go by faster. Not trying to say that we’re trying to get off the field faster, but it just makes the day fun.”
Jones didn’t just come across his 11½ sacks on a whim — he knows when to work. This offseason, he focused on increasing his lower-body strength (the year before it was upper-body strength) with an eye toward diversifying his game.
“I’ve been trying to work on a power rush, which generates from the legs,” he said. “And it helps with run-stopping because usually when you’re trying to stop the run, you’re trying to stand the [tackle] up and stop his momentum, and all that generates from the legs.
“So that’s the main reason why I was working on my legs. One of my weak points was run stopping, so I’m trying to work on that even more.”
Jones was able to get stronger without adding much bulk; he’s still close to the 260 pounds he played at last season. But going against linemen who routinely weigh 40-50 pounds more than he does, the added power will be put to good use.
Even better, he doesn’t feel it has affected his speed, one of his best attributes. That showed during a one-on-one against Nate Solder, when Jones was off the line so quickly that Solder could not stop him from getting into the backfield.
“Definitely I feel like my speed is my strong point in the game. A lot of times I get around linemen in the run and pass just because of my agility and quickness,” Jones said.
He wants to improve against the run, but since Jones’s bread-and-butter is still as a pass-rusher, Jones is still working on that, too.
“I feel like it starts in practice, to be honest with you. The biggest thing I’m trying to emphasize this year is going even harder in practice,” he said. “Try to win more 1-on-1s, try to go harder in team reps, try to get to the quarterback more often, and I feel like if you do it in practice it will come a lot more in games, so that’s my biggest focus.”
Doing that might lead to more sacks, which would lead to more dancing, and dancing is always fun.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.