O'Hara: Jason Jones has come to play for his hometown team

Posted Apr 2, 2013

Jones says he's passed the Detroit Lions' training facility hundreds of times, but it had never been a stopping point until last month, when he became an important addition in the Lions' plan to re-work their defensive line

Jason Jones has traveled the route to work at the Lions' headquarters in Allen Park so many times that the landmarks on the Southfield Expressway are as recognizable to him as street signs and addresses are to a mailman.
Jason JonesDE Jason Jones. (AP Images)

From the St. Scholastic parish south of Seven Mile Rd., where he attended elementary school, to the exit signs for Joy Rd. and Michigan Ave. to the complex of buildings at Ford Motor Co. World Headquarters, the daily commute takes Jones through familiar territory.

As well as he knows the route, one thing has changed in the last three weeks.

As many times as he made the drive – "hundreds of times," he says – the Lions' headquarters was something he saw on his way by, but it had never been a stopping point until March 12. That was the NFL's start date for signing free agents, and Jones visited the Lions that day.

On the next day, Jones signed a three-year contract worth a reported $9.5 million to play left defensive end for the Lions.

After five years in the NFL – the first four with the Tennessee Titans, and the 2012 season in Seattle – Jones has come home to play left defensive end for his hometown team.

"I've passed it so many times, especially in college," said Jones, who played at Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti after graduating from Southfield Lathrup High. "I saw that giant, white building. I never thought I had a chance to play here.

"Free agency was my first time being in this building."

Jones was available to the Lions twice before, but they never bid on him.

Jones was well regarded in the 2008 draft because of his physical dimensions – 6-5, 272 pounds with 37-inch arms – and the ability he demonstrated at Eastern to play defensive end and tackle.

The Lions drafted offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus in the first round. That was a good pick. Cherilus was a five-year starter and signed as a free agent with Indianapolis last month.

With the 45th pick in the second round, the Lions took undersized linebacker Jordan Dizon, who was out of football after two seasons. Nine picks later, the Titans drafted Jones.

The Lions were mostly spectators when Jones hit the free agent market last year. He signed a one-year contract with Seattle, with the expectation that he would be on the market again in 2013. It worked out in his favor, and the Lions acted quickly to sign him.

Actually, a family member beat Jones to Allen Park.

"My little cousin has been up here to practice, just to watch," Jones said.

This summer, the little cousin can watch his big cousin at work.

Jones has seen a lot in his five pro seasons. One experience is seeing Seahawks owner Paul Allen arrive at practice in a sea plane.

Jones is an important addition in the Lions' plan to re-work their defensive line. Starting tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are back, but there is a new set of ends. Cliff Avril, the steadiest and most consistent pass-rusher the last three years, signed with Seattle -- Jones' old team – and Kyle Vanden Bosch was released.

Jones will take Avril's spot at left end. The starter at right end is up in the air.

Jones has had mostly good experiences in his five pro seasons. He has seen the varying ways franchises work, from the top down, and his stays in Nashville and Seattle gave him a look at disparate areas of the country.

"Nashville's a great city," Jones said. "It's a slow city, not too fast. People down there are nice. I still have a place there. Seattle, being so far on the West Coast, it was a different experience for me, being so far away from my family.

"The weather is different. It was rainy all the time."

Jones learned that the Seahawks' reputation of having some of the wildest fans in the NFL is not a myth.

"Those fans . . . it's probably one of the best stadiums you can play in," Jones said.

The Seahawks' headquarters and training center is on Lake Washington in the Seattle suburb of Renton. When Allen attended practice, he arrived in unique style.

"The way he comes in is unbelievable," Jones said. "The practice field is right off the water. He flies in on this little plane. He lands right on the water, gets off on the dock, and he walks up to practice.

"I had to see it to believe it. When I saw it ... Wow."

Don't expect anything similar from the Fords – owner William Clay Ford, son Bill Jr., who is vice chairman, or any other family members. They tool up in top-of-the-line products from the auto company that bears their name.

Kayaking to work in the Rouge River, which runs just east of the Allen Park headquarters, is definitely out.

Avril and Jones represent a player-for-player trade-off, but they have different styles.

Avril split wide in the Lions' scheme and used his speed and quick first step to rush the passer. Avril had 29 sacks the last three seasons.

Jones is at least 20 pounds heavier and taller (6-5 vs. 6-3) than Avril and plays a more powerful game. Jones has the versatility to move inside to tackle in pass-rush situations, and he uses his long arms to interfere with passing lanes. Jones has 18.5 pass breakups in five seasons compared to 13 for Avril. Avril has a 39.5 to 18.5 advantage in sacks.

"Jason Jones is a different kind of player than Cliff Avril," head coach Jim Schwartz said at the recent league meetings in Phoenix. "Cliff was an edge, speed guy. Jason is more of an inside, affect the quarterback.

"Even if he's blocked, he can still affect the passer. It also allows us to keep Nick and Ndamukong involved more. Less things open up. We put Cliff in what we thought was the best position to help us. It didn't necessarily put Nick Fairley or Ndamukong Suh in the best position."

Jones' reunion in Detroit isn't only geographical. He has familiarity with the Lions' coaching staff.

In his rookie season with the Titans, Schwartz was defensive coordinator. Jim Washburn coached the defensive line in his second and third seasons. Washburn has been added to the Lions staff to work with Kris Kocurek. Jones is happy to be reunited with Washburn, who is known for his intensity.

Jones expects Washburn to add some wrinkles to the defensive line's scheme.

"He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve," Jones said. "He'll probably have Suh doing something, Fairley doing something. He loves the pass rush, coming up with different games.

"I don't think any defensive lineman would say they don't love the pass rush. That's what you get paid off of."