As the Jacksonville Jaguars longest tenured player, Abry Jones has seen a revolving door of players. The past few weeks though, it’s seemed like more than usual as defensive linemen have either been sidelined due to injury, contract negotiations or elected to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to COVID-19 concerns.
“Every year unfortunately we have had good people leave. Some people really see it as friends and brothers,” Jones explained to reporters following Thursday’s training camp practice.
“But we always continue to bring great people. It’s always good to meet new people—new young guys, new vets from around the league that pass on the knowledge of the game.”
Some of those “new vets” haven’t joined the Jaguars on the field yet as they continue to complete their initial round of COVID-19 testing. Caraun Reid and Carl Davis joined practice today (Thursday) for the first time. Others have already been practicing and working out with their new unit.
Adam Gotsis—who to this point has spent his entire career with the Denver Broncos—joined the Jaguars for his fifth year in the league. The first day of media viewable practice, Gotsis stood out during conditioning, exhibiting harnessed strength and athleticism.
“I feel everyone is picking up well,” Jones said of the new faces in the unit.
"Rebs [Defensive Line Coach Jason Rebrovich] is doing a good job of trying to cross-train a lot of guys to play different positions. Every morning when we’re going, we’re increasing our football knowledge- trying to quiz guys on what they have to do in different positions and in their positions, formation recognition, to recognize what plays we’re going to get next year. And really harping on film and recognize what we were weak at last year. I feel like everyone is really focused. Guys are asking questions when they don’t know anything. I think if we keep the ball rolling like this we’ll be good to go.”
The Jags were down five defensive linemen as recently as last week. One of those was and remains Yannick Ngakoue, who recently switched agents and is in a standoff with the Jags front office over his contract. Jones isn’t too worried about Ngakoue or the unit with the missed practice time.
“I know Yan. When he’s ready to come to work, he’s going to go to work and he’s going to be ready.”
In the meantime, with additions like Gotsis, Reid and Davis, plus the rookies, the unit can look to Jones for direction.
The former Georgia alum has been with the Jaguars since entering the NFL in 2013. The eight year vet knows that with the ever shifting line-up of players around him, his history can provide a steadiness to the unit.
“I see it as, I came in the league with dreams and goals and I feel like I’ve been accomplishing a lot of those and trying to be a true professional to keep continuing my job. A lot of young guys come in and I like to talk to the undrafted free agents to let them know that there’s a place for you in this league if you just keep working. I’m just excited to keep this thing going on and keep having that [tenured] title about myself.”
While not an UDFA like Jones was, one rookie who’s captured his attention and focus is third rounder DaVon Hamilton. The Ohio State alum is light on his feet and bend, defying some physics at 6-4, 320 pounds. But it’s not just his size or athleticism that has most impressed Jones.
“I’m loving what DaVon’s bringing out there with his work ethic. [He’s] very strong. I think that’s one of the key pieces he’s going to need to play his nose guard position. Another thing I really like about him is his hand placement. Every time we do drills I let him know about where his hands need to be and he’s very teachable.
“He listens to ‘Rebs’ [Defensive Line Coach Jason Rebrovich]. He listens to me. He listens to any vet that’s trying to give him advice. I think he has a good head on his shoulders, and he knows what he can come in here and do.”
For each rookie and new signee—and for that matter even veterans like Abry Jones—there is limited time and ability this truncated preseason to impress coaches and connect the chemistry of the team with the goals of the team. Having a steady flow of new faces in the defensive line room doesn’t help either. But Abry Jones feels if the D-line, and subsequently the Jacksonville Jaguars, can all remember this is their shot, it won’t be wasted.
“We all come to the NFL to play ball. Whether you’re ready for it or not, when you get your opportunity, you have to play. If you’re not, it’s not going to turn out good for you.”