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Packers appear committed to keeping Josh Jones and leaving him at linebacker

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Despite his reported trade request and previous comments about not being a linebacker, that’s where the Packers are playing Jones early in camp, and there’s no sign that the plan is changing.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Green Bay Packers Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

When a former second-day draft pick makes public proclamations that he is not happy in his current role and wants a change of scenery, it draws headlines. That was exactly the situation that Josh Jones put himself in this spring, as the Green Bay Packers safety chose to skip OTAs in the hopes of forcing a trade.

Since then, however, Jones has showed up for minicamp (though he sat out of practices with a hamstring injury) and reported to training camp on time. He has also been a full participant in the Packers’ first five practices. On Tuesday, prior to the team’s fifth practice, general manager Brian Gutekunst took some questions about the Jones situation and had only positive comments about the third-year player.

“I think Josh has had a really good beginning to camp,” Gutekunst said; “the four days, he’s shown up and made some plays. The physical gifts are all there, and he’s getting a lot of opportunity.

Those comments suggest that the team is moving forward with Jones as a part of their defense, and some of his recent reps in practice give even more credence to that theory. Although Jones has been running with the second-team safeties despite rookie Darnell Savage sitting out practice — Raven Greene has taken the first-team reps instead — he has been seeing reps with the starters in the nickel package at linebacker. That trend continued in Tuesday’s practice after an off day on Monday, though later in practice he and Greene swapped positions for the first time in camp.

That nickel linebacker position was where Jones has played the best football of his young career. When asked to line up at a more conventional safety position, Jones has struggled, making mistakes in coverage and poor reads on routes. But when lining up closer to the line of scrimmage, Jones can react more instinctively. One need only look back at the third game of his rookie season to see this in action, as Jones recorded 12 tackles including three for losses and two sacks against the Cincinnati Bengals while lining up exclusively at linebacker.

Interestingly, this plan goes directly opposite to Jones’ public comments during the Packers’ June minicamp, when he said forcefully “I’m not a linebacker.” In fact, the full quote was as follows: “I’m not a linebacker; y’all can get that out of your head. You can stop writing about that. That’s not going to happen.”

Clearly, the Packers did not agree with Jones’ feelings on his best position, given that they continue to give the media reasons to write about him taking most of his reps at linebacker early in training camp. For his part, Jones either has decided to embrace that role or is simply choosing to follow orders knowing that he has no leverage in the situation. Either way, the team seems pleased with how he has performed early on in camp and Gutekunst sounds like he intends to retain the former second-round pick for 2019:

“I think there are really some positive signs that he can really help our football team. It’s been really positive to see him out there doing what he’s doing.”

If Jones can keep his head down and do his job well, it certainly appears that the coaches have a spot for him. It just might not be in the position he wants to play.