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Chris Jones reflecting on 2021: ‘I learned D-End is hard as hell’

The Chiefs defensive tackle discussed taking motivation from the Bengals' loss and his goals going forward.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones spoke to the media during the second day of the team’s mandatory minicamp. A year ago, Jones was beginning a much-hyped transition outside to defensive end. The move did not pay dividends on the field, and Jones played much better after transitioning back inside after the midseason trade for EDGE-rusher Melvin Ingram.

“I learned the D-end position is hard as hell,” Jones said of last season’s experiment. “It was a learning curve for me mental-wise. Knowing the drops, knowing the sets. I think it will improve my overall game as a player mentally. Being able to know a lot of positions. I think I can carry that on to next year and move on from it.”

While the team found little success in the move, Jones appeared open to continuing to play on the outside — though clearly in more select situations than as a full-time move. He expressed confidence that Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive line coach Joe Cullen will put him in the best position to succeed.

“Every game plan is different,” Jones acknowledged. “Every team offers different schemes when you go in week by week. Once we get in the season, we can kind of scheme on that. Wherever coach Spags and Joe feel comfortable with me playing, I’m good there.

“I’d rather see more time at both (defensive tackle and defensive end) — wherever the coaches feel comfortable at. Once we know about matchups. If we have a tackle that’s light, I like to play D-end. If we have a guard that’s not as good or (in his) first year in the league, I like to take advantage of that. Wherever the advantage is at, I’m willing to play.”

Jones enters his seventh season now, finding himself the team’s longest-tenured defensive player. Both Jones and his coaches have high expectations for the coming season. In his media appearance two weeks ago, Cullen claimed to expect a career year from Jones. A tweet from Jones last month also implied that he intends to contend for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.

“I look at it as being be best me which I can be on this defense,” Jones said of his tweet. “Not only challenging my teammates and the defensive line around me but actually contributing to this defense. With me, I want to be the best me but most importantly, it’s about getting to that Super Bowl. That’s first and foremost. AFC, Lamar Hunt [Trophy], Super Bowl. Whatever happens after that — it happens.

“People like action. They see you giving it your all — that’s when you challenge them to either follow you or make it a step higher. That’s what it’s all about. Competing with one another — to get the best out of one another.”

Jones also addressed his performance in the AFC championship game, in which he failed to make key plays in the eventual loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones acknowledged his missed opportunities but vowed to use the game as motivation going forward.

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

“For me, that’s my driving force right now,” he claimed. “I missed some of the biggest plays of the game. I feel like if I would have made those plays, the game could have been different.”

As a returning player on a heavily revamped unit, Jones knows what he wants to see as the defense comes together.

“Gritty — if you want to sum it up in one word,” Jones offered. “You’ve got to be a gritty defense. That’s from the coaching staff to the players on the sideline to the players that are starting. There’s got to be grit. Don’t let go of the rope. We’re always fighting. Once we attain that mentality, I think we can push forward from that.”

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