With former starting defensive end Cory Redding leaving via free agency and the Ravens with limited salary cap room this offseason, third-year defensive lineman Arthur Jones could see the opportunity staring him squarely in the face.
Unlike the departures of starters Ben Grubbs and Jarret Johnson, who have left question marks at their respective spots, the Ravens feel confident in the combination of Jones and second-year pass rusher Pernell McPhee to replace Redding’s production at the defensive end position. Both will need to contribute more in 2012, but Jones is looking to seize the job after limited opportunities in his first two seasons.
Active in just two games in his rookie year, Jones played in 14 games last season and made his first NFL start filling in for an injured Redding in the Ravens’ Week 16 win over Cleveland. The former first-team all-Big East selection is ready to see the fruits of the work he’s put in over the last two years with defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.
“I know it’s not going to be easy getting the job and what not,” Jones said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST last week. “Pernell McPhee is a great player — don’t take anything away from him. He’s a hard worker, but I’m going to do everything to tell the coaches that I’m ready. I’m the next man up.”
Selected in the fifth round in consecutive years, Jones and McPhee bring different skill sets to the field. The 25-year-old Jones has a 30-pound weight advantage and is stronger in stopping the run, whereas McPhee has stronger hands and is better in pressuring the quarterback as he demonstrated by collecting six sacks in his rookie season.
If looking strictly at the Ravens’ 3-4 base system, Jones would be the more conventional choice to start, but the Baltimore defense is known for using multiple looks, which will lead to opportunities for both players. Jones will likely see more reps on first and second down, with McPhee spelling him on third down and obvious passing situations.
“They are both looking forward to competing for that spot,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They have flexibility, too. Art can go inside, and Pernell can go outside.”
Jones admits he still has plenty of work to do this offseason, wanting to improve his technique and recognition in playing the zone. The former Syracuse product believes the benefit of a full offseason program in Owings Mills will allow him to take the next step in becoming a starter.
While the Ravens are confident in replacing Redding’s modest production on the field (7 1/2 sacks in two seasons), the veteran leadership he provided was a major asset to the younger defensive linemen on the team. Much like former nose tackle Kelly Gregg was instrumental in Jones’ development at defensive tackle during his rookie season, the young defensive end credits Redding in teaching him what it means to be a professional.
“He was more than just a football player on a team,” Jones said of his former teammate. “He was kind of like my mentor, like a big brother. I don’t have an older brother; I’m the oldest one in the family. I really consider him an older brother, and he helped me out so much with everything.”
Ironically, Jones could have the opportunity to fulfill the big brother role on this year’s team — literally. Jones’ younger brother Chandler is a rising draft prospect from Syracuse projected to go as early as the end of the first round or early in the second. Two inches taller and nearly 50 pounds lighter, the younger Jones has the pass-rushing ability the Ravens are potentially looking to add coming off the edge.
Jones is used to being a proud big brother, having watched his brother Jon become the UFC light heavyweight champion. He’s now training with Chandler to realize his own NFL dream, and the thought of teaming up again like they did as members of the Orange would be a dream scenario for the brothers.
“It would definitely be really neat for him,” Jones said. “We played together in college, and it was an awesome time. There’s nothing like making tackles, hitting the guy at the same time, smashing the guy with your brother. There’s really no greater feeling.”
Whether his younger brother winds up in Baltimore or not, Jones cannot help but feel good about the offseason and the potential role lying before him as the Ravens begin offseason workouts later this month.
Though he remains an unproven commodity with only 20 career tackles, the 313-pound Jones can’t wait to show what he can do on a consistent basis.
And the Ravens appear confident he can do the job.
“I’m so excited for this opportunity, more motivated than ever,” Jones said. “It’s just a beautiful thing to be in the position that I am right now. I’m just enjoying life and working my butt off.”
Listen to Arthur Jones’ entire conversation with WNST.net’s Glenn Clark right HERE.