As veterans for the Jacksonville Jaguars returned to the building in late July, defensive coordinator Todd Wash pulled aside Abry Jones.
The two have been together since 2013, when both arrived to Jacksonville; Wash via a move with then Head Coach Doug Bradley and Jones signed as an undrafted free agent after the NLF Draft. Wash has always worked directly with Jones, first as the Jags defensive line coach and then as defensive coordinator.
So when they sat down on the first day of veterans reporting for this 2020 training camp, it was with eight years of history and understanding of the man across the table.
“Eight years ago I was coaching Abes so we have a very good relationship,” Wash explained to reporters on Friday before training camp practice, “and I said, ‘It’s time. It’s time for you to really take control.’”
Jones is the Jaguars current longest tenured player. During his eight years with the club though, he admits, he’s been “lucky in the vocal leadership department” with others around him willing and suited to take on that role.
“When I was here we had Roy [Miller], then Malik [Jackson] took over for a little bit, then we had Calais [Campbell] - and everyone knows how great of a leader he is.”
Wash understands as well, this is asking something different of Jones, but it has to be asked nonetheless, as Wash explained he continued to tell Jones.
“‘I know before, you were a vocal guy in that room, but I think [former Jaguars DE] Calais [Campbell] was really the leader in that group and now we’re putting that on [DE/LB] Josh [Allen] even though he’s a young player.’ But him and Abes really need to step up and lead that group. Abes knows what I expect in that room.”
Because of the influx of new guys in the unit—the Jags have added three new defensive linemen in free agency in the last two weeks alone—Wash says he and defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich will be “a little bit more hands-on with that group” this offseason and into the 2020 NFL season.
But they’re also counting on Jones.
“[Abes] knows how I want it to look and he knows how I want those guys to practice, what I expect in meeting rooms and Abes is going to help us get to that standard that we want, especially with all these new guys," Wash said.
The bevy of new guys coinciding with Wash’s directive and Campbell’s departure to Baltimore means Jones’ offseason has been centered primarily around taking on more of the leadership role he knows the Jaguars defense will need…mostly because they’ve told him that’s the case.
“I’ve got to put a little bit more on myself," admits Jones.
"Ever since Calais left, I had some guys hit me up and just letting me know what everyone needs them to do to get done. They’re behind me fully. I’m just trying to go around and make sure I’m harping on guys to work on their technique, work on the little things that’s going to make us a better D-line than last year.”
Last year’s D-line had household names and two Pro-Bowlers (Campbell and Allen) but glaring deficiency like an inability to stop the run. The Jaguars were 31st in the NFL last season, allowing 5.1 yards per rush. The 23 rushing touchdowns they gave up was also second to last and the six rushes of 40+ yards given up was worst in the league.
Individually, Jones had 30 tackles and recovered a fumble, to go towards his career 180 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 12 passes defended, three forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. What Jones brings alone the line will help enforce the vocal leadership he’s now taking on. And that in turn, according to Wash, will help with the run defense.
"Obviously he’s got to continue to play at a high level, but if he plays at a high level, that leadership is priceless and he can really bring—we’ve got a lot of young guys, which we know and obviously even more new guys," Wash said.
“So that leadership is going to be important for him to help us, as a coaching staff within an organization, set the tone for that room because that’s where it starts. And I told him day one, ‘I’m tired of people turning around, just handing the damn ball off and getting four or five yards a crack,’ and it starts with the guys up front, that’s the damn expectations for them. And he’s going to help us get that done and get to where we need to be and run defense.”
Getting to where the defensive line—and subsequently the Jacksonville Jaguars—need to be starts now, and it starts with Abry Jones. As Wash, it’s time for him to really take control.