By all accounts, Brad Jones had a career-best season in 2013. After several seasons playing outside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, Jones shifted inside starting with OTAs and minicamp this time last year. He then was inserted into the starting lineup in place of the injured D.J. Smith (who was replacing the injured Desmond Bishop) and played extremely well over twelve games (including playoffs), earning a three-year contract from the Packers in free agency.
He is not moving back outside, and we will explain why.
Pro Football Focus named Jones the team's "Secret Superstar" for 2012, and I can't find a fault with that assessment. He came out of obscurity to become the team's most complete inside linebacker, having success both in pass coverage and against the run, and moving him back to outside linebacker would be a recipe for disaster.
First, the Packers paid Jones to play inside, and there is no question about that. His play at outside linebacker over the past few years would not warrant anything near the three-year, $11.75 million contract that he signed this off-season. That deal was solely offered because of his performance in 2012, and moving a $4 million/year inside backer back outside where he has proven himself to be consistently mediocre would be a waste of money and talent.
Secondly, he brings a skill set to the inside linebacker position that the more established starters, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, do not have. Specifically this relates to his coverage skills; Jones was able to minimize any damage done by receivers in his coverage area. This quote from PFF explains one way he was successful in the passing game last year:
While he allowed a high catch rate, he could frequently make the tackle soon after the completion to make it a successful play for the defense. The best example of this is the Week 16 game against Tennessee where he allowed four catches, but all four came on third down where the receiver was stopped short of the first down.
This is the skill that will force the Packers to put Jones on the field inside and in passing situations. A while back I looked at the ways that the Packers tend to use their linebackers and found that the inside linebackers played about 43% of their snaps in pass coverage in 2012. The outside linebackers, on the other hand, averaged less than 11%. Considering that one of Jones' greatest strengths is in coverage, it would be a foolish exercise to shift him back to the outside where he would be used almost exclusively to rush the passer instead of to cover receivers.
In general, one of the things that I believe that Dom Capers does well is acknowledging the strengths and limitations of his players and putting them in position to succeed. He did so with A.J. Hawk last year, keeping him on the field frequently on base downs but substituting him out on obvious passing downs. He flipped B.J. Raji back to end from nose tackle in 2011 when it was apparent that he wasn't having success taking up multiple blockers on the interior of the line. He also was not afraid to move Charles Woodson to safety last season when it became clear that his age was preventing him from playing the cornerback position.
With all of those factors in mind, the thought of Jones being moved outside seems like a bad idea, even in an emergency situation. He is much more valuable as an inside linebacker, and the Packers would be better off with him manning the middle of the field and a young player or two rushing the passer on the outside.
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