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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Growing up in a household with two younger brothers who’ve achieved fame in the athletic realm, Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones is finally drawing much-deserved recognition of his own.
First, it was winning Super Bowl XLVII and getting the best of younger brother Chandler Jones — a defensive end and 2012 first-round pick for the New England Patriots — along the way to championship glory. Now, he is gaining further notoriety as one of the Ravens’ best defensive players in his fourth year.
Success didn’t come immediately for Jones as a knee injury in his final season at Syracuse caused his draft status to plummet before the Ravens selected him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. Playing behind veterans such as Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and Cory Redding on the defensive line, Jones was active for just two games as a rookie.
At the same time, his other younger brother was becoming one of the most famous mixed martial art fighters in the world while cheering on his older brother in Baltimore.
“When he first started, we’d be out there watching like, ‘Is he even playing right now?’” said UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones, who visited the Ravens at their Owings Mills facility on Wednesday. “Not only has Arthur managed to be in the game full-time, but he’s becoming an impact player, and that’s amazing to see.”
Now a starting defensive tackle for the league’s eighth-ranked defense in points allowed, Jones faced the problem that many young defensive linemen encounter when entering the NFL without overwhelming size like Ngata’s 340-pound frame. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds coming out of college, Jones bounced back and forth among the different defensive line positions while learning the Ravens’ 3-4 system.
Jones became a regular member of the defensive line rotation in 2011 — appearing in 14 games and making one start — and was tabbed to compete with fellow defensive lineman Pernell McPhee last season at the 5-technique defensive end spot vacated by Redding. However, that position required more speed and didn’t allow Jones to fully utilize the strong leverage he gained from a wrestling background.
The transformation for Jones started midway through last season when the Ravens began using him more exclusively at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot that lines up on the outside shoulder of the opposing guard. Over the final six weeks of the 2012 season, Jones collected the first 4 1/2 sacks of his career and continued to be a major contributor in the Ravens’ postseason run to a title.
“The more guys play, the more they see, the more they just kind of understand what you want,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of Jones prior to the bye week. “When you’re early on and you play on a defense that’s a multiple-type defense, you really spend a heck of a lot of time just memorizing what the heck [you’re] supposed to do rather than just playing ball. Once that kind of clicks in, it makes a difference in a player who makes more plays, because it comes natural now.”
After missing the 2013 season opener due to an irregular heartbeat that put his career at a temporary standstill this summer, Jones has become one of the best players on the Baltimore defense in collecting four sacks and 28 tackles, five of them for a loss.
He has often pointed to a critical point in his career taking place during the NFL lockout in 2011 when he spent extensive time training with his brother Jon in the mixed martial arts. The workouts not only improved his hand placement critical for defensive line play but left him in the best shape of his life, and he’s continued to train with his young brother.
“I give a lot of credit to [Jon],” Jones said. “In the offseason, I work out with him faithfully on hand fighting, wrestling, [and] leverage. Just having good pad level is a game-changer in this league, so if you can learn how to use your hands and have good leverage, you can do some good things.”
Regarded as strictly a run-stopping lineman early in his career, Jones has emerged as arguably the Ravens’ best interior line pass rusher and has graded out as the team’s third-best defensive player this season behind the pass-rushing duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, according to Pro Football Focus.
Though nose tackle Haloti Ngata has been named to four Pro Bowls and receives the most recognition along the defensive line, Jones has been the Ravens’ most consistent defensive lineman as he’s progressed from a frequent game-day inactive in his rookie season to one of the better 3-technique defensive tackles in the AFC. His improvement hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates, who’ve seen him blossom up front.
“When you see the potential of a player and he grows, and he starts to mature into himself [and] come into his own, it’s pretty good,” Suggs said. “It’s good to see the production that he’s had with success.”
The Ravens’ biggest problem in regards to Jones might be the ability to keep him as he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Awarded the second-round tender worth $2.02 million as a restricted free agent this past offseason, the 27-year-old is in line for a good payday on the open market.
With the Ravens projected to have limited salary cap space for the second straight season and needing to address a plethora of offensive issues, Jones might follow a similar path as Paul Kruger, who turned a successful fourth season in Baltimore to a lucrative contract with the Cleveland Browns. Jones joked Wednesday that his younger brother Jon was visiting the team to help negotiate a contract extension with general manager Ozzie Newsome.
It’s true that Jones may never outshine his younger brothers, but he is finally seeing his hard work pay off and the Ravens have benefited along the way.
“He’s turned into a very solid and even excellent defensive lineman in this league, and I think it is because of his work ethic,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s talented, he’s quick, he’s explosive. He’s really maximized his physical potential, and he’s one of the best defensive lineman now going. We’re real proud of what he has done.”