FOXBORO, Mass. — Chandler Jones is a massive presence at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, but the New England Patriots defensive end can be difficult to spot on the game field.
Jones can line up nearly anywhere along a defensive front, from outside linebacker to defensive tackle, and there aren’t many NFL players quite like him. In a 3-4 “regular” defense, Jones essentially can line up in the same position as the Indianapolis Colts’ Robert Mathis or the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt, though you won’t see Mathis regularly playing defensive tackle or Watt standing up on the edge.
Most edge rushers can play either 4-3 (seven-technique) defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 (seven-technique) defensive end and 3-4 (five-technique) defensive end, but Jones can play all three, plus a smattering of defensive tackle on third down.
Jones gives the Patriots that versatility, and it’s not only valuable because of the possibility of injuries but also in confusing opposing offenses.
“That definitely gives you something you can do there,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “Some of that is within a game and some of that is maybe from week to week, depending on what you’re facing. One week, maybe it’s this, and the next week, maybe it’s something a little bit different. You can do some of that within the game of moving around. Sometimes it depends on a player, depends on the team you’re playing. Sometimes moving a guy around in a lot of different spots is not that easy during the game and can be a little bit confusing — not even so much for him as the other guys. Like, ‘Who are you? Are you the end? Are you the Will? Are you Sam?’ Because they want to know who they’re working with, too.
“You could do it, you just have to do what you can do. If it’s too much, then sometimes it can slow you down. But definitely as you match up against different offensive teams and systems throughout the course of the year, a player like Chandler could have a variety of different roles, depending on what you had to defend.”
In theory, Jones would play outside linebacker in the regular defense against run-heavy teams, to give the Patriots an imposing presence on the edge (and a bigger presence in the middle by allowing a 300-pounder to play end), and defensive end against pass-heavy teams to bring more pressure.
The Patriots spend most of their time in their nickel defense, where Jones can play end or tackle.
Based on personnel this season, it seems like Jones will spend the majority of his time on the edge in sub packages (nickel and dime). The Patriots don’t have a clear-cut third edge rusher, and rookie defensive tackle Dominique Easley should be able to replicate what Jones did at three-technique defensive tackle last year on obvious passing downs.
It can be difficult to find a balance between doing what’s best for the player’s development and for the defensive scheme. If Jones was able to pick one, or even two, positions, he could master those and decide either to bulk up to gain strength or cut weight and add more mobility. But right now, Jones is in the perfect spot where he can play on the edge, in the middle and anywhere in between and feel natural, making opposing offenses uncomfortable.