Paul GutierrezESPN staff writer4 minute reading
HENDERSON, Nev. — It was a decidedly slimmed-down Chandler Jones who arrived at the Las Vegas Raiders’ offseason program this spring, the result of not being able to lift weights as he rehabbed the left elbow injury he suffered on Christmas Eve. which ended his season with two games to play.
The good news? He didn’t need surgery.
“I’m a little lighter this year, I feel a little faster, a little bit stronger, but I’m just trying to perfect my craft,” the 11-year veteran edge rusher said during voluntary OTAs.
“When I was rehabbing, I took my time, as opposed to just jumping on the weights and trying to get muscle right away. Then I got fit again, then I started working out, lifting, and that’s where I am. I’m like just building muscle right now. So you just throw the leaves off the tree and then [start] grow them again.”
When Jones went down — the injury was so painful he had to be wheeled to the locker room from the sideline — he had played his best football in an otherwise forgettable first season with the Raiders after signing a three-year, $51 million deal. free agent contract.
Four of Jones’ 4.5 sacks had come in the three games before the injury, and he had the improbable 48-yard walk-off touchdown as time expired against the New England Patriots — when now teammate Jakobi Meyers inexplicably passed the ball to him . — a week before the injury.
“I gave him a little smile, that’s all,” Jones said of crossing paths with his new Raiders teammate. “That’s all he got from me.”
But there is more. Much more.
There is a hint of unfinished business for this leaner version of Jones, who said he was in the 250- to 255-pound range, though he looked much lighter (his playing weight is listed at 260). Even as some see the Raiders’ selection of edge rusher Tyree Wilson No. 7 overall draft pick as a sort of referendum on Jones and what the 33-year-old has left in his tank.
Still, Jones was all for the selection of Wilson, refusing to see it as a slap in his face. Rather, it is an opportunity to pay it forward.
“Where I am now as a player, it’s my job to get guys like Tyree, Adam Plant — another guy you might not have heard of — these guys are young and they have such a high ceiling,” Jones said on the Raiders’ first-round draft pick and an undrafted rookie out of UNLV. “They can go so far.
“When I was a young player, I had Vince Wilfork, but he wasn’t much of a pass rusher, but I wish I had a Maxx Crosby, a Chandler Jones in my room as a rookie. That’s our job as a player .to pass it on, and the things we can share… I mean, look at [Tyree], I am happy to have him on the team. … He will be good for us.”
Jones, with 112 career sacks and four Pro Bowl nods along with a pair of first-team All-Pro selections, could be headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame when all is said and done. Still, those numbers, Jones and his coaches insist, can be misleading.
Consider: While Jones’ 4.5 sacks were second on the Raiders to Crosby’s 12.5 sacks last season, three came in one game, a Week 13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, when Jones had five QB hits and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Otherwise, Jones was thoroughly criticized and criticized for an apparent lack of production. Enter Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, Jones’ position coach with the Patriots in 2012, his rookie season.
“Chan is like my favorite,” Graham said with a laugh. “Don’t tell anyone though.
“The things he did last year, in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback, playing the run, I mean, I’m just so proud of him … because you just see the growth of a true technician, a true professional in kind of the way he can explain the game, the way he executes out there, the way he sees it and his leadership skills. He works hard every day and we’ll see how it all goes, but Chan is a great player. … I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”
Still, taking his five-game 2020 season away, Jones had career lows in sacks (4.5), tackles (38), tackles for a loss (3) and forced fumbles (1) in last season.
And therein lies the spark when it comes to numbers, right?
“Football, especially at this level, statistics are very difficult,” Jones said. “You can sit there and stare at stats, but at the end of the day, as long as you’re doing well with the coaches and you’re doing your job and you’re maybe freeing up other guys, as long as you’re putting the team first, that’s all , that matters.
“Do I want more stats? Sure. Is that my goal? Sure. I’d be selling myself short if I didn’t. But you can’t go after them.”
He will stick to chasing quarterbacks while imparting wisdom to the next generation of Raiders pass rushers.