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Seahawks' Vi Jones 'Looks Like a Different Guy!' - Bulked-Up Camp Statement

After auditioning in three regular-season games as a rookie, Vi Jones has stood out as one of the Seattle Seahawks most improved players in training camp thanks to added muscle and learning from a franchise icon.

RENTON, Wash. - Midway through the Seattle Seahawks' third training camp practice on Friday, reserve quarterback Drew Lock took the snap and quickly had to vacate to his left with the pocket collapsing.

Rolling out with his eyes scanning the field, Lock eventually spotted tight end Griffin Hebert drifting along the sideline. Trusting him his strong arm, he tried to thread the needle to get the ball to his target, but the throw sailed on him and hit off the undrafted rookie's fingertips, popping up into the air.

With the ball falling out of bounds, Lock's errant pass looked to be a harmless incompletion. But out of nowhere, as the ball came crashing down to the VMAC  practice field grass, linebacker Vi Jones rushed underneath after sprinting towards the sideline from the middle of the field, gathered the catch, and stuck the landing with both sets of toes in bounds for a spectacular interception.

Teammates mobbed Jones after the highlight reel pick, the most notable of several plays made by the second-year defender so far in training camp. After drawing praise unprompted from Pete Carroll on multiple occasions during the offseason, he received more compliments for his strong start after Sunday's latest practice.

“He looks like a different guy," Carroll told reporters. "He looks like a linebacker now. He’s played outside for us, he’s moved around in college some, we’ve put him behind the football to see if he can help us there, but he got hurt in the springtime. He missed three or four weeks. He didn’t get to make a lot of progress, but he was learning and studying. When he came back out here, he was very comfortable with it."

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina State last year, Jones made a positive impression on Carroll and Seattle's coaching staff in his first NFL training camp. But at 6-3, 225 pounds, the team wasn't quite sure where to play him defensively, as he saw snaps in the preseason at both inside and outside linebacker along with playing on several special teams units.

While Jones made a handful of plays in exhibition games, including a sack in his NFL debut against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, he hit the waiver wire during final roster cuts before returning to the Seahawks practice squad in September.

After dressing for three regular season games with no official stats as a practice squad elevation, including playing for the Seahawks against the Buccaneers in Munich, Jones knew he needed to bulk up his lean frame to give himself a chance to battle for a roster spot moving forward. Hitting the weight room hard after the season while training with his brother Zay, he added nearly 10 pounds of muscle, and though an injury sidelined him for a large chunk of OTAs, the extra strength has paid major dividends so far.

"I dinged up my knee a little bit," Jones explained. "So I just was trying to strengthen my legs and get some weight on my arms, weight on my body. Working hard and smart, giving myself the right nutrition, the right sleep, just getting after it."

Getting healthy during the six weeks between the end of Seattle's offseason program and training camp, Jones has hit the ground running taking snaps as an off-ball linebacker with the second-team defense. In the first camp practice, he generated a pair of pass breakups, including deflecting a bootleg pass from Lock that led to the ball coming up several yards short of the receiver. Later in the same practice, he flew threw the line untouched on a blitz, forcing a quick whistle on a sack.

Two days later, Jones demonstrated his elite range and athleticism in coverage, making up a ton of ground quickly coming all the way from the weakside inside linebacker spot to the sideline to intercept Lock. On Sunday, he continued to stand out, filling a gap to stuff running back DeeJay Dallas before a quick whistle stopped the play in a non-contact practice.

When asked about his own comfort level playing inside linebacker compared to a year ago, Jones downplayed the switch since he played off-ball quite a bit at North Carolina State in college. Confident in his athletic ability and passionate about the game, he feels comfortable playing wherever the Seahawks need him with the desire to play faster and more assignment sound regardless of position.

"Just running full speed all the time," Jones said when asked where he wants to improve his game the most. "Knowing my assignment, knowing what's going on in front of me and what's going on behind me and just continue to make plays, show that I'm growing and I still have a lot of room to grow."

When Jones hasn't been on the field, he has been playing close attention to perennial All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, watching and learning as the all-time great continues to make plays. After not getting to play with the legendary defender during his rookie season, he's been absorbing everything No. 54 has to offer to apply to his own game.

Whether he's teaching in the film room or demonstrating by example between the lines, Jones says Wagner's return to the Pacific Northwest has given the entire linebacking corps a "lot of fire" and nobody wants to let him down. Seeing a 12th year veteran chase down speedy receivers such as DK Metcalf on jet sweeps or break up sluggo routes in coverage against running backs downfield as he did on Sunday inspires everyone to elevate their effort.

"It's blessing to be able to watch someone like that," Jones remarked. "He's made a lot of tackles, he's a future Hall of Famer. So being able to learn from him, watch him, and be able to play with him, it just brings some more juice to your game. I've been enjoying it and I love it."

Turning 25 years old in May, Jones remains one of Seattle's most intriguing young players due to his raw athletic gifts and untapped upside. Potentially working to his benefit in the short-term, the team has question marks at linebacker behind Wagner and Devin Bush, as three-year starter Jordyn Brooks started camp on the PUP list and may not be ready for the start of the season after tearing his ACL in January.

If Brooks isn't available in Week 1, away from Wagner and Bush, the Seahawks only have one other linebacker on the roster who has played regular season defensive snaps in Ben Burr-Kirven, who re-joined the team last week after missing two seasons due to a severe knee injury. Likely competing against Jon Rhattigan, Burr-Kirven, and undrafted rookie Patrick O'Connell, an excellent preseason would go a long ways toward securing a spot on the initial roster.

As for beyond 2023, Wagner, Bush, and Brooks will all become unrestricted free agents in March, creating long-term concerns at the position. If Jones continues to develop as an off-ball linebacker learning from the veterans in front of him while emerging as a core special teams player this year, he could play himself into consideration for an even bigger role next season, and Carroll is looking forward to seeing how he progresses after a strong start to camp.

"I don’t know what his high level is at this point. He’s really athletic, he’s tall, he’s fast, lean, and explosive. Let’s just see what happens. We know he can play on special teams. We’re trying to develop him as a linebacker and see how far he can take it.”

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