The Syracuse product did not disappoint, putting up one of the most impressive seasons by a Patriots defensive rookie since perhaps Jerod Mayo or Devin McCourty. Last season Jones recorded 45 combined tackles with six sacks (three of which came in his first four games) and three forced fumbles.
His impressive play drew comparisons to former Patriot Richard Seymour, who last played with the Oakland Raiders.
Now entering his second pro season, the 23-year-old defensive end is looking to build on his impressive numbers from a year ago.
"My biggest thing moving forward and going into this year is doing better than I did last year," Jones told reporters.
Jones would have likely had an even bigger impact in 2012 had it not been for an ankle injury he sustained during a Week 11 game against the Indianapolis Colts. The injury forced him to sit out New England’s following two games, and limited his productivity when he returned.
After registering six sacks in his first eight professional games, Jones failed to record a single sack in his last six. His tackles per game also dropped significantly. In the seven games prior to his injury, Jones logged nearly four-and-a-half tackles per game. However he managed just two tackles per game in his next seven.
As a result, Jones is making a concerted effort to enjoy an injury-free season in 2013. In a recent piece by the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe, it was revealed that Jones worked closely with team nutritionist Ted Harper this offseason.
"Basically, I’ve been trying to eat a little bit better and trying to focus on myself, trying to get my upper-body strength, focus on certain weaknesses of my game, becoming an all-around player to become a better teammate," Jones said.
Jones has already demonstrated his desire to be a better teammate. He recalled when he first arrived in Foxborough in 2012, he was mentored by some of the team’s veteran defensive players. Now he’s trying to emulate those leadership qualities by doing the same for the 2013 defensive rookie class.
"When I got here last year, there were guys that took me under their wing," Jones said. "We had Vince Wilfork, we had Brandon Deaderick and we had Rob Ninkovich. We had a lot of guys who were in that D-line room and even Jamie Collins is a part of that front seven and Michael Buchanan and a whole bunch of those guys. I just told them to come over and watch some film."
Head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged his second-year defensive end’s impressive rookie campaign, but maintains he still has untapped potential.
"[Jones] definitely understands how to use his physical attributes, but like any player, he’s in his second year," Belichick said. There will be things that he can learn and improve on and refine and develop as we go forward."
In recent years the New England defense—in stark contrast to the Super Bowl-winning teams—has been peppered with youth. Initially this was a disservice to the Patriots because the talented, but relatively inexperienced defense would often make critical mistakes at unforgiving times.
Jones is hoping to turn that perception around.
"We’re working hard and just want to win football games," he said. "A lot of things change, you’ve got to look at things differently. Just keep working."
The start of the 2013 NFL regular season is now less than a week away. We will get our first look at the Patriots when they take on the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium next Sunday.