GREEN BAY, Wis. — Datone Jones isn’t lacking in self-confidence. That was apparent already during training camp when the Green Bay Packers’ rookie defensive lineman dubbed himself Tornado Jones and Hurricane Jones.
First-round picks carry inflated expectations, though. That’s the reality for a player who’s selected on the prime-time television event that is the opening night of a three-day NFL Draft weekend spectacle.
That extra pressure was never felt by Jones. He measured himself by different standards and didn’t pay attention to the positive or negative comments made by fans or media. Jones wanted to be viewed just like any of the other 10 players that the Packers drafted in 2013.
"When you start believing it and, ‘Oh, I’m a first-round pick,’ that means you start thinking you’re better than people and start looking at guys and think you’re better than them just because you got drafted high," Jones told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. "That wasn’t me. I don’t do all that. I don’t really look into all that stuff."
Jones joined Green Bay’s defense after playing in a very similar system at UCLA. It’s part of what attracted the Packers to Jones and it’s why it seemed possible for him to have a big impact as a rookie. With 3.5 sacks, 10 tackles and one fumble recovery, Jones believes he accomplished that.
"I thought I did really good," Jones said. "I was able to really help out a lot on third down. In the pass department, I was second on our defensive line in sacks; and we have a big veteran group. So I thought I played pretty well this year and I got better every week."
Jones’ role in the Packers’ defense was never as an every-down player, but his snaps really decreased late in the season. Playing more than 33 percent of the snaps in Week 7 and playing nearly half the snaps in Week 8, Jones was down to below 10 percent of the snaps in the final two regular-season games.
There were plenty of lessons learned by Jones during those trying times when he stood on the sideline waiting to get on the field.
"You can’t take your foot off the gas; the NFL is a game of effort," Jones said. "There’s a lot of guys in college who can play on this level, but it takes special guys to be able to do it. Not everyone can really dial in mentally and go through the long days, go through the long, grueling days here. It’s tough.
"At times you want to go home and you can’t do it; it’s like training camp every day pretty much. You’ve got to really hone in and make sure that you’re getting rest at night and make sure that you’re getting better every day so that it won’t affect your work.
"As a rookie, you’re like, ‘Man, I wish I could go home and chill, play video games.’ But at the same time you have a job and responsibility that you have committed to to this team to make sure that you’re doing the best thing so that you can help this team win the Super Bowl."
Now, Jones plans to apply what he learned as a rookie to a much-improved second NFL season.
"I’m just saying it right now, next year I’ll be a whole other player," Jones said. "I won’t look the same, my body won’t look the same, I’ll be bigger, stronger, faster. That mental next step, I’ll have it. I’m excited. I know I’m going to have a good year next year. Nothing’s going to slow me down."
Jones won’t be just a third-down player for long, either. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac doesn’t think that Jones needs to add weight to his 6-foot-4, 285-pound frame in order to expand his role. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers agrees and sees a bright future for Jones in his 3-4 defense.
"I think moving forward with the offseason and all that, he has the ability to be a three-down player," Capers said. "The offseason, the OTAs, the training camp will be very valuable to him to get a chance to show what he can do on all three downs."
Throughout the first few days of training camp in 2013, Jones was explosive and a must-watch player in practice. An ankle injury, however, dramatically halted his progress and ultimately kept him from being a bigger part of Green Bay’s defense.
"He probably sprained his ankle at the very worst time for him, because he ended up missing some valuable time early," Capers said. "He was obviously anxious to get back, and you could see him hobbling around trying to play. It’s hard to play that position on one leg."
Jones wouldn’t use that as an excuse. But looking ahead, Jones feels he’ll be ready to live up to his billing as a player worthy of a first-round pick, even if he does try to ignore that title as part of the expectations surrounding him.
"I’ve got an offseason to really come back and really sit back and chill and not do too much and get my mind right so I can come back stronger and a whole other player," Jones said. "I know I will be."