Before defensive lineman Datone Jones signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract with the Vikings — and after he came to Minnesota in March and met with coach Mike Zimmer and defensive line coach Andre Patterson — he was Green Bay’s first-round pick in 2013. Rivals tend to not want their players going to teams within the division.
But Jones said the Packers didn’t really become interested in re-signing him until they realized he might be coming to the Vikings. A year earlier, the Packers had declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, making him a free agent this offseason.
“I don’t think they really made a strong effort until I took a visit to Minnesota,” he said. “I think once I came to Minnesota, my mind was actually made up. Once I sat down with Coach Patterson, I think my mind was made up right then and there.
“Once I sat down with Coach Zimmer [and] the rest of the coaching staff, I think my mind was pretty much made up. I had some of the best years I could ever have in Green Bay, and I thank the Packers organization for those great years, but you know, I think it was just time for me to move on with my life and come somewhere new and get a new start.”
Jones said those meetings with the Vikings coaching staff persuaded him to join the club.
“Oh man, I fell in love with the coaching staff and the culture, the tradition of the Minnesota Vikings,” he said. “When I took the visit, after playing against them for four years, it was just, ‘Wow, I’m really going to the other side.’
“But when I actually sat down with the coaches and they presented their plan for me, which I could see the remainder of my career, I fell in love with the coaching staff and the competitive nature in the building. I wanted to be a part of that.”
One change the Vikings plan to make with Jones is to move him inside on the defensive line and have him line up over the offensive guard, a position similar to what he played at UCLA. The Packers played the 6-4, 285-pound Jones more at linebacker and defensive end, rushing the passer from the outside, but Jones said Patterson told him the Vikings think he can be a more effective rusher from the three-technique spot (the position injured Sharrif Floyd plays) over the guard.
“Me and Coach Patterson talked a lot,” Jones said. “They really said they can see me and utilize me as a three-technique. A lot of people were like, ‘Man, how do you go from outside linebacker and defensive end to a flat-out three-technique?’ But you know, that’s my element. That’s where I rushed from on third down in Green Bay. I’m used to playing inside.
“Coach Patterson trusted in me that I could actually make that adjustment. I’ve been putting a lot of work in down here to help make that transition. But I know once I’m in camp, guys are going to help me. Guys like [nose tackle] Linval Joseph, even guys like [defensive tackle] Tom Johnson, and the rest of the group can help me make my transition.”
Jones and the coaching staff believe the Vikings’ 4-3 defense will be better suited for Jones, compared to the Packers’ 3-4 defense. He also said he’s comfortable rushing in nickel and dime defenses, in which the Vikings employ five and six defensive backs in passing situations.
“It has become a passing league, and now everyone is pretty much running the same defenses on third down, which is pretty much making the defenses nickel or dime,” he said. “I’m very familiar with those nickel and dime defenses.”
Plenty of Bruins
Jones is the fifth UCLA player on the roster, joining linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, kicker Kai Forbath and long snapper Kevin McDermott. Jones said he has some history with several of them.
“I have a … lot of college brothers that I actually played with in college,” he said. “We call it ‘UCLA 2.0.’
“But yeah, I’m just excited to be coming somewhere where I’m very familiar with guys, especially Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, me and them were close just playing on the same defense in college. These are guys who have come to my wedding, these guys are my brothers, we talk every day in group chat. I’m just happy to be able to go somewhere and prove myself amongst my brothers and show them that I am who they say I am.”
Jones said knowing some of his teammates and the coaching staff was one of the reasons a former Packer was lured to Minnesota, and that familiarity will help him all season.
“I think the coaches do a really great job in Minnesota of helping guys make that transition and helping guys go out and compete,” he said.
• According to Zimmer, people who wrote off wide receiver Laquon Treadwell will find the Vikings’ top draft choice of a year ago is really standing out in offseason workouts and will be counted on to be a lot better player than he was last season.
• Former Twins GM Bill Smith has been named assistant to Pat O’Conner, the president and CEO of Minor League Baseball.
• Former Gophers QB and Vikings assistant coach Marc Trestman is in his first season as head coach of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
• The Vikings open the 2017 season against New Orleans and quarterback Drew Brees, one of the greatest passers in the NFL. The Saints were the only team in the league to average over 300 passing yards per game (317) last season, with Brees throwing for 350 yards or more six times.
• The Timberwolves still hold the rights to a talented European player in power forward/center Bojan Dubljevic, who is starting for Valencia in Spain, in the same league Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio once played. The 6-10, 245-pound Dubljevic is the team’s leading scorer at 12.5 points per game and averages 5.4 rebounds. The Wolves drafted him in the second round in 2013.
• Defensive end Noah Hickcox was one of nine Western Michigan recruits who changed their commitment to the Gophers football team when Minnesota hired former Broncos coach P.J. Fleck. The 6-4, 275-pound Hickcox went through a tough senior year of high school when his father passed away from cancer, and he built a deep bond with Fleck. Hickcox described what he likes about Fleck to GopherHole.com:
“There are so many qualities to him, but above all he is a unique person to talk to, so when I was going through everything that happened with my father, he was there throughout the whole thing, calling me every night, talking about the day, not even just talking about my dad. … He is a commendable person and I can’t wait to play for him, to be honest.”
Sid Hartman can be heard Mondays and Fridays on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org