More than a month ago, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo approached Chris Jones with something of a proposition.
How would you feel about playing on the outside?
The reply came in expression initially, a smile revealing his answer. On Sunday, Jones finally made the move to defensive end, a transition prompted by necessity.
He might stay there by choice.
In his first game this season splitting time between the outside and interior of the line, Jones disrupted the Minnesota Vikings offense play after play. He had one sack in his return from a groin injury. Recorded a season-high five quarterback hurries, too.
“It was fun,” he said. “I didn’t see as many double teams as I see on the inside. I told Spags (that) it would be nice if I can just play there the rest of the year. That would be wonderful.”
It had been trending in that direction for awhile. As Spagnuolo grew confident Jones was learning the new scheme, he began to move him around during practice. But Jones’ groin injury halted that progress.
When he returned in Sunday’s win against the Vikings, he took about 60% of his snaps as a defensive end and the remainder at tackle, though circumstances precipitated that — the Chiefs had only two healthy defensive ends. A week later, Frank Clark is on the mend, potentially nearing a return from a neck injury.
But the Chiefs liked what they saw from Jones. It could stick — at least occasionally.
“I think that’s something you can do, and it gives you flexibility,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He’s a big kid and can handle the load outside that a tight end and a tackle put on you. I think he has the athletic ability to do that. He does good inside, too. He’s not a speed rusher – that’s not what we’re talking about here — but he has a lot of power, and he can do that.”
Jones called it a challenge to play the new position, referencing the mental aspect of the change. He had to learn new responsibilities. Sometimes the defensive end is tasked with dropping. Sometimes it’s setting the edge on a run play. Offensive formations often dictate assignments at that position.
He adapted quite well, all without losing his impact at his more familiar spot on the line. In his three most influential plays of the game, he occupied three different positions.
• Early in the first quarter, he absorbed two blockers from right defensive end. With one arm against the chest of each, he still shoved both of them backward, wrecking a run play.
• Midway into the second quarter, he recorded the Chiefs’ only sack while playing right defensive tackle. A pure muscle bullrush knocked the offensive lineman into quarterback Kirk Cousins, sending him to ground.
• And in perhaps the most critical defensive play of the game, Jones completely blew up a third-down pass on the Vikings’ last drive, exploding into the backfield to force a hurried throw-away from Cousins. It also forced a Minnesota punt, and the Chiefs would win the game on the ensuing drive.
Jones said he felt sore after the game, as though, “I had got into a war.”
It’s a battle he won, aided by a bit of a surprise factor. He saw less attention as the Vikings were left to guess exactly where he would reside on the defense.
All part of the design.
“Wherever they put me,” Jones said. “I’m going to dominate.”