O'HARA'S FINAL THOUGHTS: Versatile Jones to play key role in defense

Posted Aug 22, 2014

Mike O'Hara gives his final thoughts heading into Lions-Jaguars including Jason Jones adding versatility, the kicking competition and more.

Final thoughts on the Lions-Jaguars:Jason Jones coming back to add versatility to the Lions defensive line, kicking for a job, what preseason history says to expect from Megatron’s first game action of the preseason and Larry Webster putting hits on top rookie quarterbacks:

Jason Jones, inside outside: Whether he plays tackle or his regular position at left end on the defensive line, Jones feels at home. That’s not just because the Lions’ home games at Ford Field are less than a half-hour drive from where he grew up in Southfield.

Jones is healthy after a frustratingly short first season with the Lions, and he’s a key part of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s plan to pressure quarterbacks with a blitzing, attacking defense.

After signing as a free agent last year, Jones was expected to give the Lions a powerful presence at left end and a strong pass-rush inside at tackle in the nickel defense. His season was cut short by a season-ending knee injury sustained in Game 3 at Washington.

As he prepared for Friday night’s game against the Jaguars, Jones felt good about his health and where he fits on the defensive line.

“I was just telling my coaches, I’ve got a clean slate right now,” Jones said. “I’m healthy, and that’s one of my individual goals – to be here for this team the whole year – preseason, regular season and the playoffs.”

Jones has extra incentive to play well for the Lions. They’re his hometown team. He played at Southfield Lathrup High and Eastern Michigan. He spent five seasons with the Titans and one with the Seahawks before signing with the Lions.

His height – a little over 6-5 – and extremely long arms help make him effective when the Lions rotate their linemen to get their best pass-rushers on the field on passing downs. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn coached Jones in Tennessee and moved Jones inside to tackle there and early last season before the injury.

“When we get into third down, Jason goes inside,” Austin said. “Our goal is to get our four best pass rushers in the game. We know that Jason is one of those guys. He’s really valuable inside.

“Wash (Washburn) had him down at Tennessee and really thought he was one of the best inside. That’s why we moved him in there. Obviously, in the base package, you have to have a bigger guy. We’ll keep moving guys to get our best guys (on the field).”

Rare kick-off for kicking job: The preseason battle between Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio for the kicking job hasn’t come close to capturing the attention of Lions fans the way Havard “Kickalicous” Rugland did last year when he had no chance to beat out David Akers.

Nate FreeseK Nate Freese (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Rugland was a curiosity because of his YouTube video compilation of trick kicks. His upbeat, good-natured personality brought a lift to training camp, but he did not have the form or consistency to kick regularly in the NFL.

The competition between Freese and Tavecchio is legitimate, and it could be decided against the Jaguars if one stands out and the other wilts under the pressure. It also could go down to Game 4 on Thursday night at Buffalo.

A 55-yard field goal last week elevated Freese’s stock – but missing a 33-yard extra point attempt brought it back down.

The last time the Lions had legitimate competition at kicker was in training camp in 1991. Veteran Eddie Murray soundly beat out sixth-round draft pick Richie Andrews, who was cut at the end of the preseason and never kicked in a regular-season game.

Megatron’s cameos: This doesn’t qualify as a breathtakingly original scouting report, but the Jaguars’ should be wary of Calvin Johnson and how his presence impacts the passing game – and the Jags’ pass defense.

Johnson hasn’t played extensively in recent preseasons, but when he does, he makes an impact, as shown by the following stats  in the last two preseasons:

2013: Johnson played only the first two series of the first game against the Jets and had three catches for 58 yards. His last two catches were for gains of 28 and 22 yards on consecutive plays.

2012: Johnson played all four games but got extended action only in Game 2 at Baltimore. He torched the Ravens, catching five passes for 117 yards. On a second-quarter possession, the Lions went 93 yards on five plays, and Johnson gained 83 of those yards on three catches that covered 57, 8 and 18 yards for the touchdown.

In training camp and the offseason workouts, Johnson has looked fully recovered from the knee and shoulder injuries that bothered him most of last season. In the OTA workouts he worked at full speed, diving for balls.

“It’s night and day,” he said of his health compared to last year. “I was hurting at the end ot the season, as well as everybody else. It’s a long brutal season.”

QB hunter: Rookie defensive end Larry Webster has put big hits on rookie quarterbacks in the first two games. That makes the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles his next target.

Webster hit the Browns’ Johnny Manziel in the ribs just after he released a pass in Game 1. Manziel could be seen talking to the training staff when he got to the sideline. Last week in Oakland, a big hit put Raiders rookie Derek Carr out of the game with sore ribs and what was reported as a concussion.

Carr also was ruled out for this week because of the rib injury. He was cleared from the concussion to return to practice.

“He’s really athletic,” Austin said of Webster. “He does have some upside as a rusher. He has some unique traits. He’s long. He can run. He can bend. Those are some things that not all pass rushers have.