Pac-12 Week of our 49 in 49 pre-draft series continues with a look at versatile defensive lineman Datone Jones of UCLA.
He might not know it yet, but Datone Jones already sounds like he subscribes to Jim Harbaugh’s school of thought.
One of the favorite mantras the 49ers coach likes to impart on his players is to “compete like maniacs.” So what does Jones, a standout UCLA defensive lineman, have to offer the team which drafts him in April?
“They’re getting a guy who plays with maniacal effort,” Jones said. “A guy who wants to be the best, the best guy out there. That’s what they’re getting. I don’t care if DeMarcus Ware is on the team or whoever, I want to be the best player. I’m not saying I’m better than those guys, but I want to be the best on the team. A guy who wants to make every play possible. When you talk about NFL football, I want you guys to talk about Datone Jones.”
Clearly, confidence isn’t lacking for Jones, who figures to be one of the first defensive linemen taken off the board. Most mock drafts have the 6-foot-4, 283-pounder being picked by the end of the first round, which takes place on April 25 in New York.
Until he lands with a team, it will be hard to predict where Jones will line up on Sundays. Listening to the versatile lineman, it doesn’t sound like he has a preference.
“I don’t know where I’ll be,” Jones said. “It all depends on the scheme. Like I said before, I can do it all. I started as a strong-side defensive end, I started a D-tackle and I started at five-technique.”
Jones played in 10 games as a true freshman and earned two starts, before becoming an even bigger force his sophomore year. Though his entire 2010 season was wiped out when he broke his right foot during training camp, it didn’t derail his production down the line. As a junior, Jones returned to form and helped anchor the defensive line, before breaking out in 2012, thanks to a new coach with 49ers ties.
Jim Mora, who coached with the 49ers defensive staff from 1997-2003 including five seasons as the coordinator, helped Jones realize his full potential as a senior. Jones said the entire team benefitted from Mora’s NFL-like approach to the job, as he helped turn around the program and guided UCLA to a 9-5 record and the Pac-12 championship.
Aside from the new direction from his coaching staff, Jones said his strong bond with his fellow seniors also boosted his production in 2012.
“There were a lot of different factors,” Jones said. “I felt like the coaching change helped. It was one of the steppingstones. But like I said before, the seniors took it amongst ourselves to better our team and make sure that we held everyone to a higher standard, including ourselves. We had the talent at UCLA, and we wanted to make sure we got every bit of energy out of it.”
In all, Jones had 62 tackles, 19 tackles-for-loss and 6.5 sacks. He followed that up with a stellar performance during Senior Bowl week, one which helped solidify him as one of the top players at his position.
“I felt like it showed the world who Datone Jones was. I’ve always known it,” Jones said. “My coaches back home have known it. Everybody I played with has known it. I feel like I just showed the public, going against some of the best talent across the country, I felt like I showed everybody who I really was.
“What type of guy am I? Am I going to work hard in practice? When times get hard, am I going to shy away from reps? Nah, that’s not who Datone Jones is. I’m a guy who’s always going to a front-runner. I’m a guy who wants to be the best. That’s the one thing I wanted to show everyone at the Senior Bowl.”