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Datone Jones has a golden opportunity for playing time at Cowboys camp

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With absences from players upfront, former first-round pick Datone Jones is a player to watch for in the next few weeks.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Datone Jones did not have the career path he thought he would have when he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the 26th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. After failing to carve out a starting role in Dom Capers defense in Green Bay in his first four NFL seasons, Jones has been with four different teams since. Initially signed by the Minnesota Vikings, an injury in early September cost him his roster spot and he was released in early September 2017. Jones then signed with the Detroit Lions in October, but was waived after just three and a half weeks. A week later, he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers, but was there for all of just three weeks. He then signed with the Cowboys in late November of 2017 and has been in Dallas since.

In recent years, the Cowboys have gotten the most out of several free agents who were not highly-touted. Examples of this are George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey, and Laurent Robinson among others. With one of the more inspiring defensive line coaches in Rod Marinelli, Jones could have the opportunity to be yet another low-risk, high-reward player in Dallas.

Jones will be owed just less than $800,000 in the 2018 season. At the age of 28, he simply will not have a better opportunity going forward than the one he has in Dallas now.

In the interior part of the defensive line, the Cowboys will rely on David Irving and Maliek Collins to create opportunities for edge rushers like DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Taco Charlton to get after the quarterback. But with Irving’s four-game suspension and Collins’ injury history, the latest being yet another broken foot, opportunity is knocking on Jones’ door and it is time for him to seize it.

A versatile lineman who can take snaps at defensive end or defensive tackle, Jones’ athleticism and positional flexibility made him an electric football product in the Los Angeles area early in his football career. He was an excellent athlete, and received offers from multiple national programs before deciding to stay home to play at UCLA. In his senior season, his production took the biggest rise when he recorded 63 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

Unfortunately, he was unable to produce right away in the NFL as he struggled to put on weight in his debut season in Green Bay, and the Packers’ 3-4 defensive scheme was not ideally suited to him. Jones was little more than a rotational pass rusher who occasionally got on the field.

In recent years, Dallas has used an undersized, speed-laden defensive front on passing downs. In these situations, the Cowboys have often kicked down a defensive end to rush from the defensive tackle position.

In 119 defensive snaps over four games for the Cowboys last year, Jones recorded nine tackles, a sack and a pass defensed. He should have opportunities to showcase his skills at DT as Maliek Collins is now being reported to start the year on the PUP list. Competing with Jones will be former second-round pick Jihad Ward and little-known commodities like Brian Price and Richard Ash. Antwuan Jones will be in the mix as well, but he does not seem like a philosophical fit in the defense.

Marinelli appreciates speed, explosion, and high-motor capabilities out of his defensive line. Jones’ prototypical defensive end build paired with his experience at defensive tackle could work for a nice fit under the tutelage of Marinelli and Leon Lett.

At age 28, Jones may never develop into that upper-echelon type of defensive end, but the opportunity is there for him to make a splash and make his name well-known as he approaches free agency at the end of the year. With the opportunity, both parties can reap the dividends.