Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones is expected to become the next defensive coordinator at LSU, according to The Athletic's Bruce Feldman.
This means the Vikings will need to find a new DBs coach for the second straight year. Jerry Gray held that role for the first six years of the Mike Zimmer era, but left last offseason to join the Packers. Almost exactly a year ago today, Jones was hired as Gray's replacement. Now he's making a major jump, joining Ed Orgeron's staff at LSU and taking on DC duties for a powerhouse college football program.
It also means the Vikings are up to three major openings on their coaching staff. Special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf was not brought back after his contract expired, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak retired, and now Jones is leaving to take a better job.
This is a big loss for the Vikings. Whether it was Zimmer or the players he worked with, everyone spoke highly of Jones and his contributions to the 2020 team in a unique year. During his first and only year in Minnesota, Jones had to not only deal with a global pandemic, but also a ton of youth and rotation at the cornerback position. At the start of the season, the CB room was headlined by three rookies (Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler, and Harrison Hand) and a few other young players (Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd, and Holton Hill). Without any OTAs or a normal training camp due to the pandemic, Jones had to learn how to teach and coach those players virtually.
Then the season started, and due to injuries, the Vikings went the entire first half of the year without ever starting the same trio of cornerbacks twice. Despite all of that turnover, and with the help of veteran safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, Jones was able to make a lot of progress with the CB group. Dantzler, in particular, played extremely well for most of the second half of the season. Gladney, Boyd, and Hand all showed improvement. Even Chris Jones, who was signed off of the street during the season, filled in capably.
Zimmer called Jones a "terrific coach" in his season-ending press conference.
"He’s been earning his money this year," Smith said. "He does a really good job of communicating exactly what we need to get done and things that we can expect while also not overloading the group with things that can bog you down. There can be a balance there based on just experience levels. He’s been doing a great job of starting at the fundamentals and expanding from there and giving us enough information to grow without handicapping us."
Prior to joining the Vikings, Jones had spent two seasons with the Bengals and two with the Dolphins. He took a long, winding road to the NFL, with stops at D1 college programs, D2 programs, and the Canadian Football League, among others.
It's hard to speculate at this point about who Jones's replacement will be. The Vikings' assistant defensive backs coach in 2020 was Roy Anderson, who was a defensive analyst for LSU in 2019. If Anderson doesn't follow Jones back to LSU, he would be the most obvious candidate to take over the job as lead DBs coach. However, the Vikings could also go with an external hire.
Whoever replaces Jones will be tasked with continuing the development of Gladney, Dantzler, and the rest of Minnesota's young corners. They could also be working with a new starting safety next year, as Harris is an unrestricted free agent who may be priced out of the Vikings' range.
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