Ever since defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 offseason, there have been bits of speculation about how defensive tackle Chris Jones could possibly play along the edge more.
As Jones held out of the 2019 offseason looking for a contract extension, videos surfaced of him training as an edge defender. Eventually, he showed up to training camp and continued at defensive tackle — but he did test out his defensive end skills for a lot of one game: Week 9 against the Minnesota Vikings.
In 2020, a pandemic-affected offseason disallowed coaches to teach players in-person — likely preventing the staff from trying new, unique things for the defense, such as positional flexibility.
Now, it’s the third offseason that Jones and this particular staff are together — and it has resulted in a new role for the two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle.
The rumors of Jones practicing at the defensive end have been confirmed in press conferences by Spagnuolo and other defensive players. On Wednesday, Jones finally had a chance to share how the transition was going himself — and he couldn’t have sounded more excited for the move.
“I came in the league as a defensive end originally,” Jones pointed out to reporters after practice via Zoom. “Unfortunately, we had guys that excelled at that level in Justin Houston and Dee Ford. I waited my time, and thank God — it finally happened for me.”
You would have thought Jones was talking about winning the lottery, considering how he said it “finally happened” for him. Playing along the edge of the defense sounds like a dream come true for Jones. He’s wreaked havoc as an interior rusher, but he believes there are reasons he can replicate that dominance from the end as well.
“Personally, I feel like I can be productive inside and outside,” he assured. “I think there’s more advantages on the outside; you can’t really double-team. You can chip, but you’re not really getting as many double-teams as a 3-technique would in this defense, so I’m excited about that.”
The position switch does fit with how the Chiefs’ defensive line unit has shaken out this offseason. The interior has been loaded up with the signing of Jarran Reed — while the defensive end position has unproven talent and many questions as to how to utilize that talent.
With Jones now talking about himself as a defensive end, it could balance those two positions and benefit the entire pass-rush unit.
“I think it can create advantages on this defense along the line of scrimmage,” Jones explained. “Maybe we found an offensive lineman we like the matchup with me and Frank or the interior guys. We’re able to exchange gaps now, we’re able to play left and right... I don’t mind rushing left or right, I’ll stand up and rush from the middle like a linebacker if I have to. I’m just excited to learn this position, learn the drops — Cover 3, Cover 2, man drops. I’m still learning, still progressing.”
The detail Jones can go into with what exactly he’s learning should indicate how much of a priority it has been for him and the defensive coaching staff this offseason. Originally, the report of Jones on the outside more felt like just a special, specific alignment in certain formations. As of Wednesday, it feels as though Jones has made a full-time switch to edge defender.
Whether or not Jones wants to play it all the time, he’s deferring to the coaching staff for how he’s deployed on the field.
“For me personally, I think whatever Spags thinks is best for this defense,” Jones said. “I know him and Brendan Daly will put a game plan together week by week, and some weeks it may be heavy outside or heavy inside. Whatever the game plan is for me, I’m bought in to execute that and I’m comfortable with it.”
It’s a bold move for both the Chiefs and Jones to work on another position when Jones is already one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL. Whether it was Jones or the team that initially requested this transition, they’re both on the same page now.
The results of this experiment are pending — but a super-talented, motivated player being taught an important position by a proven, veteran coaching staff sounds worthy of the attempt.