Commentary

Chandler Jones reaching for stars

Patriots' first-round pick could cause problems for opposing quarterbacks

Updated: August 8, 2012, 4:17 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At one point during Super Bowl XLVI, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady expressed his frustration with what it was like trying to find a clear passing lane against the New York Giants.

After 6-foot-5, 278-pound Jason Pierre-Paul batted down one of his passes, Brady's reaction was captured by an on-field microphone.

[+] EnlargeChandler Jones
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaChandler Jones made a big impression on the Saints during their practice with the Patriots.

"It's like throwing in a forest, dude. Those guys' arms are like … " he said.

Fast-forward to Tuesday's highly entertaining joint practice between the Patriots and New Orleans Saints, and there was one noticeable sign that the Patriots might be building their own type of forest -- athletic first-round draft choice Chandler Jones outstretching his arms and batting down a Drew Brees pass in 11-on-11 work.

It was the type of disruptive play the Patriots probably envisioned when they traded up to the 21st spot in the draft to select the 6-5, 260-pound Jones out of Syracuse. No, it wasn't a sack, but in a sense, it was just as good as a quarterback takedown with Jones decisively swatting the ball away.

"He looks like a Pierre-Paul type, the way he comes off the ball," Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod said Tuesday after spending much of the session matched up against Jones. "He has long arms, he's a tall guy and he has good speed. If you let him get into your chest, he has power enough to bull you.

"I really can't comment on him too much because I'm not here grinding with him every day, but just today's battle and seeing him out here, I think he's going to have a promising future."

Bushrod's evaluation is confirmation of what others have seen through the first 11 practices of training camp. Jones has been on the field for all the practices, putting himself in position to be a big contributor on D.

Initially, some might have viewed Jones as a prospect who would need more seasoning before breaking through, but he's challenging that line of thinking with a variety of pass-rush moves to go along with surprising strength.

When camp started, the seemingly always-smiling Jones was working behind veteran Rob Ninkovich at right defensive end. But over the past week, he's taken most of the reps on the right side, with Ninkovich flipped to the left in place of free-agent signee Trevor Scott.

It looks like the coaching staff is testing Jones to see how much he can handle, and Jones has responded favorably, at one point rocking left tackle Nate Solder in one-on-one drills with a strong push-pull move.

One other thing that stands out from watching Jones: He practices hard, sometimes diving for the cone (aka the quarterback) in one-on-one drills. He's also shown some Willie McGinest-type flexibility, lining up in both a two- and three-point stance on the defensive edge.

"He's a good-looking player," said the Saints' Bushrod, who now is in his sixth NFL season out of Towson. "Big steps, long arms and has the ability to bat balls like he did in our team period. When you're young, you have to continue to fight and work on the things that will bring you success. Obviously, I think he's doing a good job of that. I don't know him too well, but I think everything will be all right for him."

With Jones at right defensive end and fellow first-round draft choice Dont'a Hightower also being inserted into the mix at either strongside or middle linebacker, the Patriots have injected their front seven with two promising rookies. The early returns have been good for a defense that was in need of more difference-makers. Think back to 2011, and if it seemed like opposing signal-callers were too comfortable against the Patriots, it's because they were. Jones' presence could be the spark that helps change that.

Sure, it was just one play in a single training camp practice, but when Jones reached his long arms into the air and swatted away Brees' pass, it was difficult not to make the connection to Pierre-Paul. Bushrod did, and chances are many of the record crowd of 14,830 thought the same thing.

Could the Patriots turn the tables and make opposing quarterbacks feel like Brady did during Super Bowl XLVI?

For a moment Tuesday, Jones had onlookers envisioning the possibility.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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