FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots fans should learn the name Chris Jones. The rookie defensive tackle may be starting this week for the Patriots.
Perhaps Jones thought he could start as a rookie when he was drafted No. 198 overall in the 2013 draft. He probably didn’t imagine it would be with the Patriots, though.
Jones was a sixth-round pick by the Texans this season. He was waived on Aug. 30 and claimed by Greg Schiano‘s Buccaneers on Sept. 1. He only lasted nine days in Tampa Bay before getting waived again. The Texans tried to re-claim him, but NFL rules forbid them from doing so. The Patriots benefitted from the obscure rule (a team can’t claim a player they waived for two years unless he stays on another NFL roster for at least four weeks), claimed Jones and brought him on the 53-man roster.
Jones was inactive in his first two games of the season and made his NFL debut in Week 4. The Patriots were fortunate they activated the 6-foot-2, 306-pounder since that was the game in which Vince Wilfork tore his Achilles. Jones played 19 snaps in his first game, but failed to generate any pressure in the passing game.
The rookie made major strides in his second NFL game. Jones played 36 snaps and recorded 1 1/2 sacks with a quarterback hurry against the Bengals.
“It felt pretty good,” Jones said of his first NFL sack. “Obviously whenever that happens, I feel like a weight was just lifted off, feel like I can be more confident in myself. There’s still things I need to work on. I want to work on those this week and apply it towards the Saints and see what we can do.”
Tommy Kelly suffered a non-contact knee injury against Cincinnati. Joe Vellano already started in Wilfork’s place on Sunday. If Kelly can’t go against the Saints, the Patriots will likely be sending out the rookie defensive tackles as starters.
“We’re getting better every day,” Jones said about he and Vellano. “We’re both young, but Joe is a very bright guy and I’m learning more and more as I go. If I ever need anything, I look to Joe. Same here. He’ll look to me, maybe not as much as I look to him. He’s been here for a while. We’re both very confident in ourselves and we’re getting more confident each day. We just have to keep getting better as a unit.”
Both are undersized at 6-foot-2 and around 300 pounds, but Vellano is more of a typical run-stuffing nose tackle, while Jones is more of a three-technique interior rusher. It wasn’t a surprise to see Jones get after Andy Dalton due to his pass-rushing pedigree in college.
Jones had a lot of success during his four-year career at Bowling Green. He had 12 1/2 sacks his senior season. In all, he had 28 sacks and 46 1/2 tackles for loss during his four-year campaign with the Falcons.
The Patriots came into the season with two of the most experienced defensive tackles in the league starting in the middle of their front seven. Now, if Kelly’s injury is serious, they’ll have the two least experienced starters.
Jones and Vellano will have to improve to keep opposing teams from running the ball right through them, but the rest of the defense will have to step up to help out, too. If Jones’ history suggests anything though, he won’t have much trouble getting after the quarterback.