Justin Jones started zero games during the regular season for the Chargers in his rookie season, but when Brandon Mebane went down with an injury prior to the playoffs, it was Jones who Anthony Lynn and Gus Bradley chose to fill the void.
According to Jones, he learned a lot from that rookie season. One of those things was that, unlike in college, he didn't need to be the biggest guy in the NFL, but he needed to be fast. So, Jones changed his eating and workout habits and dropped twenty pounds in the off-season - playing now in the 290s rather than last year's 310s.
If you listen to his teammates and coaches, all that work seems to be paying off for Jones. Here's what Mike Pouncey had to say about his progress.
Totally different football player. Even the way he looks. He looks like he put on a lot of weight, a lot of muscle. He's moving around faster. He kind of understands that the speed of the game now is different than in college. He's a guy that's probably our most improved football player - from year one to year two.
"Most improved player" is high praise to receive from a veteran - especially one that has to go against Jones in practice.
Justin Jones should have been nothing more than a depth player this year after the team drafted Jerry Tillery in the first-round of the draft, but it's obvious no one told him that. He looks and sounds like a man on a mission to be great. If you haven't already, listen to his press conference. I love how motivated and engaged he sounds.
Brandon Mebane is another veteran who has taken notice of Jones' off-season work - calling the difference he sees "night and day." Mebane has also taken on a bit of a mentor relationship with Jones. While acknowledging all the hard work the second-year player has put in, Mebane also took time to point out areas Jones needs to improve upon.
The one thing that I always tell him 'you got to keep getting better on' is film study. He's getting better and better at film study and recognizing run keys/pass keys. That's going to be the key for him this year is recognizing run and pass on first and second down. Once he starts recognizing that even better, I think the sky's the limit for him...He has the potential to be a pro-bowler.
Brandon Mebane is probably the guy who loses playing time to someone like Justin Jones. So, for him to put the carrot of a pro-bowl out in front of his young teammate tells me two things: Justin Jones has all the ability to be great, and Brandon Mebane is a fantastic leader. Those are the types of selfless players that championship teams often point to as ones who helped turn a great collection of players into a great team.
So, it looks like this year offenses may be game-planning for bigger name players like Bosa, Ingram, James, Hayward, King, and Tillery (and rightfully slow), but they may very well be neglecting a much slimmer (and faster) #93. Count me as one of those excited to see all of the hard work pay off for Justin Jones this season.