- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter
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As a rookie, the 26th overall pick in the 2013 draft dominated practice like only a veteran pass-rusher could. Two weeks into camp, he had one of the best records among the defensive players in the highly competitive one-on-one pass-rushing drill.
And then -- nothing.
Well, maybe not nothing. But the next closest thing.
Maybe it was the ankle injury he sustained on his first snap of the preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals that derailed him – although his refusal to use that as an excuse is admirable – but except for a few plays here and there, Jones' rookie season can safely and accurately be categorized as a disappointment despite the fact that he played in all 17 games (including the playoffs).
"I didn't come out with 30 sacks like everybody expected," Jones said during the Packers' most recent OTA.
No one was asking for 30, but few expected the total to be only 3.5 (two of which came in one game, on Nov. 10 against the Philadelphia Eagles).
"I think everybody, when he first came in here, saw his athleticism," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "He's a tough kid. There's never been a question of that. He probably fought through that [ankle] thing and tried getting on the field, being a first-round pick and all of that. His maturity in everything he does, his studying, his practice habits, everything will take a leap this next year."
Jones is at the same time self-critical and self-confident.
"I felt like I finished strong," Jones said.
But in the last three regular-season games, his playing time dipped to almost nil. In Week 16 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he played only four of the 58 defensive snaps. In the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears, he took the field for only five of 50 snaps. He played 13 of the 64 plays against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoff loss, but some of those came at outside linebacker after Mike Neal left with an injury, leaving the Packers shorthanded at that spot.
"I felt like a lot of guys don't come into the NFL hot," Jones said. "Most guys, even a lot of legends across the NFL, you look at their numbers and what they did the first year. It's not amazing, but it's about what they do the following year. How did they get better?"
Perhaps that's why coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers plan to expand Jones' role and make him a bigger part of what they want to do on defense this season. So far during OTAs, Jones has often teamed with Mike Daniels on the defensive line in obvious passing situations.
In some ways, Daniels could serve as a model for Jones. Although Daniels, a fourth-round pick in 2012, did not arrive with the same expectations as Jones, he also struggled through an ineffective rookie season. In Year 2, Daniels emerged as the team's best interior pass-rusher and more than tripled his sack total, going from 2 as a rookie to 6.5 last season.
"I'm already feeling 100 times better than how I felt last year," Jones said. "I had a full offseason, and I learned so much from these older guys so far. I'm just ready to go out and play."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Anyone who watched Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones early in training camp last summer would have come away impressed.