From all appearances, the Packers defense is set up to dominate opponents in the upcoming season. Over the first few weeks of training camp, they have consistently gotten the better of the offense. However, a few questions still remain about the defensive side of the roster. Multiple spots appear to have dubious depth. Especially at OLB, CB, and safety, youth and inexperience predominate behind the starters.
However, based on last week’s preseason game against the 49ers, it appears that Green Bay may be set up for success at least one of those spots. With Rashan Gary and Preston Smith inactive, multiple reserve edge rushers stepped up in their absence. Third-year player Jonathan Garvin set good edges multiple times in the run game. Promising fifth-round rookie Kingsley Enagbare showed similar effectiveness against the run, while racking up a sack and several pressures.
However, the biggest surprise arguably came from the performance of OLB Kobe Jones. Signed in May, Jones had previously spent time with the Falcons, Dolphins, and Titans after arriving in the league as an undrafted free agent. Coming into training camp, it is likely that few fans thought that he would contribute meaningfully to the Packers’ corps of edge rushers. However, against the 49ers and in the following week’s practices, the young player showed that he has the potential to stick with the Packers.
Reviewing Jones’ Performance: Run Defense
In Joe Barry’s two-high safety defense, being an effective run defender on the edge is critical. Without an extra safety in the box, the defense is often outnumbered in the run game. Thus, it becomes critical for the defensive front to eat up blocks, control gaps, and force runs to bounce out where the second and third level of the defense can clean them up. Multiple times, Jones demonstrated the ability to win against run blocks.
Although his athletic profile is not as freakish as some other edge rushers Green Bay has picked up in the past, one aspect of Kobe Jones’ testing sticks out: his length. At his pro day, Jones measured in with 34 1/2″ arms and an 83 5/8″ wingspan. Though measurements taken at college pro days can sometimes be inaccurate, this impressive length is also evident on film.
Facing veteran tight end Ross Dwelley in this clip, Jones secures the edge with excellent hand placement and extension. He controls both gaps with great leverage and a powerful base, while getting vision on the running back coming his way. Jones’ presence closes off the outside lane and leaves the back with nowhere to go as Isaiah McDuffie crashes down.
Jones showed he could be effective against tackles as well as tight ends. Going against 6′ 6″ Justin Skule here, he uses his length to establish first contact and good hand positioning, keeps a wide base, and gets his eyes on the run while maintaining a low pad level. Similar to the last clip, his block control helps force the runner to cut back into the A gap.
Kobe Jones’ length shows up in his pass rush game as well. In this next clip, he is rushing against 6′ 8″ tackle Mike McGlinchey. McGlinchey is a former first round pick and has been a solid starter for the 49ers for several years – not an easy assignment for Jones. However, he is able to beat the tackle with an excellent pass-rush plan.
As he rushes up field, Jones stutter-steps, faking an inside move and then widening out again. In many instances, this type of fake can draw an early punch from the tackle. Thus, stutter fakes are often paired with a cross-chop move meant to knock aside that premature punch. It looks like McGlinchey might be anticipating this; he widens his hands just a bit, as if trying to keep them clean from potential cross-chop attempt.
However, Jones has a different plan. As McGlinchey turns his hips to ride the speed rush around the pocket, Jones quickly extends into a long-arm move, using his length to take advantage of McGlinchey’s open chest. Jones twists his torso, leaving only a small target for McGlinchey’s hands, then puts the OT on skates. As he finishes the rush, Jones also shows off great awareness of the QB. After reaching the same level as Lance, he sheds inside to ensure that the QB can’t step up and escape.
Later on in the game, Jones flashed the cross-chop move that McGlinchey appeared to expect. Facing reserve tackle Justin Skule, he again uses the inside stutter fake. This time, he gets Skule to initiate a punch with his outside hand. Jones hits him with a well-timed cross-chop to soften the edge, then finishes with a club and a dip around the corner. Skule does a decent job recovering to ride Jones around the edge, but this still is a nice rush.
Jones’ lone sack came on an excellent contain play. Facing Skule yet again, he gets a nice first step and knocks the tackle back. Though Skule does recover and secure the OLB, Jones sees T.J. Slaton flying up field and recognizes the space developing for the QB to step up. Jones disengages inside and secures the sack. Although Slaton’s pressure helped create the play, this is a good demonstration of Jones’ field awareness as a pass rusher.
While success on defense is important for reserve linebackers, quality special teams play is equally critical. It appears that Kobe Jones didn’t start on any special teams units, but he did sub in with the backup units that rotated in as the game progressed. Ultimately, there were few meaningful takeaways from this limited sample size. However, he did have an excellent rush on this punt block attempt. Rushing from the offense’s left wing, Jones slants inside, overpowers his blocker, and nearly gets a hand on the punt.
Jones’ time on STs will be something to watch moving forward. If he puts quality special teams snaps on tape in the remaining preseason games, his chance at making the roster could significantly increase.
Building on His Success
Kobe Jones’ strong bid for a roster spot has not merely been confined to the first preseason contest. In joint practices with the Saints this week, Jones continued to flash. In Tuesday’s practice, he showed again that he can disrupt offenses in multiple ways.
Kobe Jones having a sneaky strong camp. Combines with Slaton for a tackle at the line.
Ento can’t hang on to a one-handed pick.
And now Kobe Jones with a sack. I think he has 3 sacks and a stuff already today.
— Andy Herman (@AndyHermanNFL) August 16, 2022
Notably, when Rashan Gary exited with a temporary injury concern, Jones took Gary’s place as one of the starting outside linebackers in two-minute drills.
Rashan Gary spent about six minutes inside earlier and came back out with team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie, and he’s not on the field for start of two minute. OLB Kobe Jones is instead. Gary on the sideline with a helmet on.
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) August 16, 2022
Jones’ disruptiveness persisted in Wednesday’s practice. Though not as dominant as on Tuesday, he was still able to impact New Orleans’ offensive efforts.
#Packers defense holds thanks to Kobe Jones sack. No points for Saints starting offense in 2-minute drill for second straight day. This time, the Saints at least got a first down.
— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) August 17, 2022
The Packers entered training camp with questions about the depth at outside linebacker. Quality edge rusher depth could be critical to consistent defensive dominance. Kobe Jones appears to be making a strong bid for a roster spot, though plenty of time remains in the preseason. Could he be the newest underdog to make the 53-man roster? It’s hard to say, but Packers fans should definitely keep an eye on him as camp and the preseason progress.
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