Jones has prepared hard for Patriots season
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Sometimes, the finest details can yield the most advantageous changes.
For Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, the offseason was dedicated to learning more about himself. The greatest jumps in Year 2 occur because players devote themselves to becoming professionals. Those who recognize that fact can excel.
For starters, Jones worked with team nutritionist Ted Harper to lock down a firm dietary plan. Those help for obvious reasons.
But Jones also pushed to increase his upper-body strength. Remember, he was hampered by a pair of ankle injuries last season, and he believed he put too much stress on his legs, which possibly led to the ailments. Again, the ability to realize how the little things can impact a performance should go a considerable way in Jones' development.
"Basically, I've been trying to eat a little bit better and trying to focus on myself, trying to get my upper-body strength, focus on certain weaknesses of my game, becoming an all-around player to become a better teammate," Jones said. "We just want to get out here and win. Just win games."
As coach Bill Belichick often says, there's no such thing as a magic wand in football. The simple combination of an immense load of potential and a good offseason won't simply translate into a 15-sack season in 2013, but a responsible level of professionalism, a gifted amount of athleticism and some nice memories from a rookie season are a good way to start.
Jones had six sacks in his first eight games before he dealt with his first wave of adversity. The ankle injuries and scouting reports from opposing offensive linemen were enough to neutralize the Patriots' most disruptive pass rusher.
"Sacks are hard to come by," Jones said. "You can't just get a sack every game. You have to work for it. You have to set it up."
The Patriots defense has looked strong in training camp, which is a continuation from its performance in the spring, and that assessment is without truly getting to analyze Jones, who has at least looked explosive in one-on-one work. But defensive linemen don't earn their truest evaluations from coaches until they can go full tilt against another team.
Expectations remain high for Jones, who is viewed around the league as a candidate to break out as a sophomore. He has earned a great deal of attention from the national media, even if Jones said he hasn't been made aware of it.
"This is actually my first time hearing that, so thanks for enlightening me with that," Jones said with a wry smile. "There is a reason why this is my first time hearing that. I try not to read things like that. That's great, but you try to look past that because if you get too caught up in that, it's too much going on (when) you focus on what other people are thinking."
Yet, it isn't just the media who believe Jones can bust out.
"I wish I had the length of Chandler," said Rob Ninkovich, who is Jones' pass-rushing counterpart. "I wish my arms were that much longer. He's blessed with those. He's definitely going to be a guy that is going to have a great year. He's had the first year of experience to kind of get the rookie jitters off so he can just go out here and play football."
Of course, Jones' potential to rack up double-digit sacks could be hindered by his position. He'll have the chance to increase his quarterback takedowns if he gets the majority of his reps at defensive end in a four-man front.
But the possibility exists for Belichick to play more of a 3-4 base with Jones at defensive end in a Richard Seymour role. Consider Seymour's value to those older Patriots teams, despite the fact that he never racked up more than eight sacks in a season.
That's all to be determined, though. For now, Jones knows he has put in the work to set himself up for a bright sophomore campaign.
"I feel a lot more comfortable, to be honest with you," Jones said of his physical wellness. "Not more comfortable as experienced. I'm not saying I've arrived or anything like that. I have a lot of work to do. I'm just speaking on a personal standpoint. I have a lot of work to do. I'm excited to get that work done and win some football games."