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Chiefs training camp notebook: Chris Jones wants new-look D-line to be ‘gritty’ in 2022

Jones: “I think we left a lot of opportunities [out there] last year.”

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Entering his seventh NFL season, defensive tackle Chris Jones has been a member of many versions of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense.

The 28-year-old shared a locker room with the likes of Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson during the early years of his NFL career. He learned how to be a pro under the direction of safety Eric Berry — and began to share that leadership role as the team transitioned to safety Tyrann Mathieu.

Given Mathieu’s offseason departure, Jones’ position as a veteran to whom young players can turn has been elevated even higher. But those close to him feel he is up to the challenge.

“Chris has grown up right before us,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. “I think we’ve seen that. He’s going wild out here every day. Maximum effort. He’s in great shape. Over the last few years here, he’s really dedicated himself to being in tip-top shape and pushing himself. He’s a fun-loving guy, but he’s learned to funnel that into when he’s on the field.

“It’s all business, and that’s how he’s gone about it.”

Since the Chiefs selected Jones with a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, his popularity has increased year after year. Part of that is his on-field production — Jones has 49.5 career sacks — but another significant aspect is his infectious and sometimes goofy personality.

As Reid indicated, Jones always likes to keep it light — but he also knows there is a time and place for everything.

“I have a mission here,” said Jones. “Especially when stepping on this practice field, our mission is to get 1% better every day — and that’s a balance. You can come out here and have fun but make sure you’re doing your highest capability on this field, making sure you’re leading guys by example. I take that personal — especially when I’m stepping on the field.”

When you’re in a camp against your own teammates, you can only go so hard. Teams need to be careful about intensity levels to prevent injury. But defensive line-offensive line drills exist to get much-needed live reps before preseason (and eventually, regular-season) games begin.

In those particular drills, nobody wants to see Jones line up across from them.

“Chris is one of those guys that if he wants to get after you in one-on-ones, he’s going to,” said center Creed Humphrey. “He’s got so many great moves, and he’s so good at every single move he does — so talented, so athletic. Very agile for how big he is. Very strong, too, so he’s one of those guys that — he’s just a different beast.

“He’s definitely a fun guy to go against in practice. You know you’re going to get better every time you go against him, so it’s been awesome to go against him this camp.”

Jones had another solid season for the Chiefs in 2021, leading the team in sacks (9.0) and quarterback pressures (34). His numbers would likely have been better had the Chiefs not tried to make him primarily a defensive end.

Despite that productive season, the lasting memory of Jones’ 2021 season is likely to be the near-sack of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on third-and-7 in the AFC title game.

“I think we left a lot of opportunities [out there] last year — our last game of the season on the field,” said Jones. “We were able to make a few changes on the defensive line room, bring my brother back and a lot of familiar faces back. I think this year, it’s about being gritty — stopping the run, stopping the pass and doing whatever we can to help this defense out.”

The brother that Jones mentioned is not a blood brother. He was referring to Frank Clark, whom the Chiefs were able to bring back on a restructured contract. Clark has shown up to camp in better physical shape — with hopes to have a bounce-back year in 2022.

Finding his old form may even help Jones have a more productive year in his own right.

“I’m always ecstatic to have my brother back, man,” said Jones. “I think Frank played a pivotal part of the success of this team — especially coming in, first year, winning a championship. Next year, we went to another championship, and AFC last year.

“I think he’s been a huge part of the success of this team, also, so when you have a guy like that back and know what he’s capable of doing, I think he’s almost about to have the record in the postseason in sacks. His success speaks for itself. I don’t have to tell you... I think [I’m] ecstatic to have him back on the defensive line.”

Clark and Jones’ production in the postseason is vastly different. As Jones noted, Clark’s 11.0 postseason sacks put him at fifth place in NFL history. While Jones has always had fantastic regular seasons, he is still seeking his first postseason sack — despite appearing in 12 playoff games.

But that part does not seem to bother him.

“I got a postseason ring,” said Jones. “I got a championship ring. You know what I mean? So when you talk about a postseason sack, I’m not really striving for postseason sacks. The game plan changed. The order of the d-line, it changed, so when you talk about that. I have a ring. I have more rings than sacks, but this year, I’ll get a sack if it makes y’all happy.”

As defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has noted before, sacks aren’t a perfect stat. Many times, making a quarterback uncomfortable without necessarily getting to him can do the job. That said, the Chiefs were fourth-worst at getting to the quarterback in 2021. That’s a point they hope to improve this season.

The Chiefs brought in Joe Cullen to be their defensive line coach, which Jones has appreciated. As they face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offensive line, the messaging for the defensive line room is to bring the same energy every day.

“As a d-line, more so, it’s about being consistent day-in and day-out,” noted Jones. “Especially playing against our offense, like we have, it’s hard to stay at a high level consistently because they throw so many things at you. So for me, more so, it’s about being consistent in the front four: making sure that we’re taking no days off.”

In addition to retaining Clark, the Chiefs drafted defensive end George Karlaftis in the first round and recently signed veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Young defensive linemen Mike Danna and Turk Wharton continue to progress.

Jones said he expects the new-look unit to be grittier in 2022. Jones hasn’t really said, “Sack Nation,” in a while. But if that is the case, perhaps he will soon.

Observations

Click here to see my observations from Monday’s practice session.

Post-practice chat

Press conferences

If you can’t see the above (Apple iTunes) embed, click here. The press conferences are also available on Spotify.

Injury report

  • Did not practice (due to injury): CB Rashad Fenton (shoulder), OL Lucas Niang (knee), TE Jody Fortson (quad), WR Gary Jennings (concussion), DT Taylor Stallworth (knee), WR Daurice Fountain (groin)

Tweet of the day

Our John Dixon compiled all of Monday’s tweets here. Here is the tweet of the day:

“Isiah Pacheco Watch” has begun.

Quote of the day

Andy Reid, when asked about attending Dick Vermeil’s Hall of Fame ceremony in Canton: ”Great to see [Dick Vermeil]. I’ll tell you what was a unique story: there were five guys that stood on the stage there. The stage is broken up... there are two lines on either side. And there are all the yellow jackets that are already in the Hall of Fame. And each guy came down. The four before coach Vermeil, he was last in line. They come down on one side, one the other side. They shake hands, high-five, hug and all that. The time that it took those four together to come down, took coach Vermeil to come down and get on that stage — to the point where the fella that was emceeing just goes, ‘Hey, this is Dick Vermeil. He’s coached for 50-plus years. 50-plus years. He knows everybody.”

What’s next?

The Chiefs return to the practice field on Tuesday (Day 12) for another padded practice. The workout begins at 9:15 a.m. Arrowhead Time. Here’s the complete schedule. The Chiefs say it’s an exclusive season ticket member day. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub and several of the team’s assistant coaches will address the media.

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