GREEN BAY – Josh Jones has waited patiently for his opportunity all season, though admittedly it wasn’t easy for the Packers’ second-year safety.
Not for a former second-round pick who played more than 700 defensive snaps as a rookie and finished fourth on the team with 71 tackles.
After not missing a game a year ago, however, Jones suffered an ankle injury at the end of training camp that sidelined him for Green Bay’s first three regular-season games.
As much as Jones wanted to be on the field, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound safety used that time off to concentrate on his craft and try to learn from the defensive backs around him and other defenses he’d study on film.
Even when Jones was mostly limited to special teams, he continued to prepare like he was a starter. Everything Jones did from the meeting rooms to the practice field was in anticipation of his next chance to show his skill set, whenever that may be.
“Patience is a virtue. And that’s what I was able to learn earlier in the year,” Jones said. “Bide my time until when my name is called, and then make the plays and you’ll continue to be out there.”
That time finally arrived last Sunday. After playing only six defensive snaps through his first four games, Jones recorded six tackles over 51 snaps against the New England Patriots Sunday.
The deadline trade of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington had a domino effect on the Packers’ secondary. With Tramon Williams sliding to the back end, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine rotated Kentrell Brice and Jones beside the 12th-year veteran through the first half.
Jones said he enjoyed playing alongside Williams, whose calming presence helped him quickly settle in. It was a good thing, too, considering Green Bay had to finish the game without Brice (knee injury) and reserve safety Jermaine Whitehead, who was disqualified for his part in a scuffle with Patriots offensive lineman Daniel Andrews.
Jones was in the lineup to stay after those developments and he capitalized on his chances, making perhaps his best play of the evening in the third quarter when he stopped Cordarrelle Patterson on second-and-goal at the Green Bay 1.
It was one of two stops Jones contributed and a play that set the tone for the Packers’ defense getting a critical goal-line stand for a turnover on downs.
“I thought Josh did some really good things,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think it’s just like anything, too, you get back in there and quantity of reps that you play, there’s things that you learn from.”
While Brice returned to practice Wednesday, the Packers made some adjustments with their secondary this week. The team claimed safety Ibraheim Campbell off waivers from the New York Jets Monday prior to releasing Whitehead and promoting cornerback Will Redmond from its practice squad Tuesday.
Campbell entered the league as a fourth-round pick out of Northwestern in the 2015 NFL Draft, which marked the second of Pettine’s two seasons as head coach of the Browns.
Jones doesn’t concern himself with personnel matters. He simply hopes to remain a fixture in the defense moving forward. Although he played almost exclusively deep safety against the Patriots, Jones has past experience playing the in-the-box role Whitehead was filling in Green Bay’s hybrid dime defense.
“Whatever I get asked to do, and I will be asked to do both, I’m willing to do that,” Jones said. “I’m excited for it and that’s what I knew, whatever team drafted me coming out I knew that’d be what I’d be doing.”
Admittedly his harshest critic, Jones knows he still has areas of his game to clean up. He lamented jumping offside on the opening kickoff, jokingly attributing the error to his excitement and enthusiasm about his playing-time opportunities Sunday.
Jones came to Green Bay with a lot of buzz after running a 4.4 at the NFL Scouting Combine. After watching a draft-and-develop success story like Morgan Burnett have such a distinguished career on the Packers’ back end, Jones wants to play a role in a promising young secondary that includes 2017 draftmate Kevin King, and rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.
To do that, Jones knows he must seize every opportunity afforded to him. The 24-year-old did against the Patriots this past weekend and wants to stack it this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
“If you draft a guy – period, I don’t care where it’s at – if you draft a guy, obviously you have some type of belief he’s going to be on your football team,” Jones said.
“Green Bay is a draft-and-develop place. God willing, I’m looking forward to being here for a long time, like Morgan Burnett. Being here for eight years, I want to be that type of guy you can build a defense around, myself and the rest of these younger guys.”