For a relative neophyte, Justin Jones seems to have this three-technique position figured out.
At least in theory it seems so. Executing it will require actual plays made by the Bears, but understanding it all and playing it right is the key to their defense.
“Honestly, I wanted to play three-technique,” Jones said. “If I could play three techniques every year, that’s what I would do. It’s a position I feel like I was born to play.”
Jones wasn’t the first choice to be a disruptive force on the defensive interior, and his signing was met with more than skepticism. First he almost signed with Indianapolis. However, they see playmaking potential in practice when it comes to rushing the passer and also now that the pads are on, stuffing the run.
“It’s kind of like that,” Jones said. “I’m an explosive athlete. I’m getting off the ball. I knock guys back. I pause the game. I can be in a hurry, you feel me.
“All the guys know that and it gives me the opportunity to be the beast that I know I am.”
The first beast failed. This was Larry Ogunjobi and he didn’t pass the physical. Finding Jones requires some imagination because he was somewhat buried last year in a 3-4 and before that in a 4-3 that didn’t always use a three-technique offense.
However, GM Ryan Poles and Eberflus have seen enough Chargers plays on film that Jones lines up in virtually the same three-technique position between guard and tackle and plays as a disruptor rather than a blocker, so so that others can receive matches. They quickly turned to Jones after the failure of Ogunjobi and now he is doing what he loves.
“Man, I put my hand in the dirt and then it’s man-on-man,” he said. “It’s all those reps in the weight room, those sprints, those climbs, those bag workouts. That’s all we work on.
“My senior year I was in frog stance. I’m not a frog stand player. I’m trying to put that foot down, get in first and get off. That’s what I’m on. the boys expect from me. That’s what I’m going to bring.”
The “frog position” and a different approach under former Bears coach Brandon Staley with the Chargers continued the trend of keeping Jones’ stats low. He never had more than one sack in a year until he had three last season. He has 4 1/2 over a four-year career.
Now he thinks it might be different in a little while.
“Oh man, like I said, I’m just finding my way around this circuit, trying to figure out how all the moving parts work,” Jones said. “You feel me. Not just more on the run side, on the pass side with the D-line, just more on the back end as well. Because certain coatings mean that certain blockers will last a little longer.”
This isn’t a case where everything in the scheme is about simply allowing players to get into the gap and attack, even if Jones sounds like he’s blowing the bugle on every offensive play. They have to adapt to situations.
“If we’re in man coverage, you know the quarterback, everybody’s got their backs turned, so we’ve got to have a quarterback, so our rush is a little different,” Jones said.
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They use this time to refine their approach.
“It’s more about the communication,” he said. “For me, for example, I know if I line up in a three-technique and I see there’s a tight end on the line, right, and I know my end isn’t going to have the best shot because of the tight end right there or if there’s tight receiver and I know he (defensive end) isn’t going to have the best shot, I’m going to do my best to make sure I really, really get on the field.
“You know what I mean? So he can work on that chip and maybe go inside. Or we can run a play to get him out of it to make sure he can have a better shot or a better quality shot so we don’t lose him because four equals one when it comes to for passes.”
The offensive three technique is not a new concept in Chicago.
The Bears worried about it constantly under Lovie Smith in an earlier version of the Tampa-2 defense. They had a brilliant three-pointer in Tommy Harris, but he tore his hamstring in 2006 and never had him available for the Super Bowl, a game in which the Colts perfectly attacked that weakness on the interior.
Jones lacks the experience factor to expect him to be a big hit at this spot, but if the Bears are right about his talent level, then they could come away with a lucrative success story at a hard-to-find position.
They’ve found three-techniques in far more unlikely spots than the 6-foot-3, 309-pound defensive tackle.
Henry Melton was a tight end at Texas and ended up being the three-technique to replace Harris. He also had success until a torn ACL hampered his progress.
Jones was in a 4-3 before last year and wasn’t as productive, but that was when the Chargers were very effective as a top-10 defense and used him a little differently under Gus Bradley than the Bears do now. In the Chargers’ old 4-3 scheme, they had linemen who tackled like Jones will, but also some who played two-gap support. The tasks were different.
Jones had no sacks and just two tackles for loss in 2019, his second year and first starter. He then also managed to sack five tackles for loss in 2020, Bradley’s final year as defensive coordinator with a 4-3 defense. Last year at 3-4 was when the Bears saw his promise in a three-sack, five-TFL effort.
Now he combines his own natural explosiveness in a scheme with players who also attack gaps.
It’s a defense that could even look a lot more ferocious up front when you add in the threat of a weakside linebacker like Roquan Smith if they ever get around to paying him and ending his “holdout.”
“Those guys play hard, man. I like that,” Jones said. “They play hard, everyone flies to the ball. You know everybody wants to be around, you know if we were live people would want to go over the pile.
“You know, bodies to the ball, that’s what we’re going for here and that’s what everybody’s trying to focus on. I like this, a lot. That’s kind of been the story of the Bears, everybody flying to the ball, being real aggressive and real physical when it comes to those (defensive) hits and everything.”
It’s been a success story when they’ve had someone who can be a disruptor up front, and with Jones, they’re counting on that to happen again.
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