ATLANTA (AP) — Falcons linebacker Deion Jones came off the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday and was finally back at practice.
Now he must carve out a role for himself on defense.
Jones knows nothing is guaranteed, including a starting spot he’s had since Atlanta drafted him in the second round in 2016. But at least Jones is fully recovered from right shoulder surgery that sidelined him throughout the offseason and the early days of training camp.
“I guess recovery is tough on everybody, mentally, physically and just taking it one day at a time getting back into it,” he said. “But I had people around me and the team keeping me encouraged, so it was all good.”
The 2017 Pro Bowl selection joins a group of linebackers that consists of Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Lorenzo Carter and reserve Arnold Ebiketie on the outside and current starters Mykal Walker and Rashaan Evans on the inside. Jones has played inside and middle linebacker throughout his career, but now is learning all four positions in coordinator Dean Pees’ scheme.
This is Jones’ second year under Pees. He played most of last season with an injured right shoulder — wear and tear, he called it, not one big blow that caused him to get hurt.
The Falcons, who went 7-10 in their first season under coach Arthur Smith, gave Jones a lesser role than he had under former head coach Dan Quinn, who used Jones to run the defensive huddle.
That job last year went to Foyesade Oluokun, now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are in town to practice against the Falcons for a couple of days before the teams meet in the preseason finale Saturday.
“I give Deion credit because he’s going to come out here, he’s going to compete and he’s going to work his way back in,” Smith said. “It’s going to be hard to get on the field in that room, and that’s what you want in the competition, because Rashaan and Mike Walker are doing a great job. Now we’ve got to see what Troy (Andersen) can do. (Nathan) Landman and Dorian (Etheridge) have had good preseasons.
“It’s going to play itself out, but I give Deion credit. He’s got the right mindset to come out here and prove something. That competition is real.”
The Falcons tried to trade Jones during the offseason, but found no takers with his $20 million salary cap hit — the highest on their roster — and a base salary of $9.6 million. Jones has two years left on his contract with the base salary next year jumping to $11.9 million with a cap hit of $18.4 million.
Jones said he ignored talk and speculation during the offseason that his future in Atlanta didn’t look promising.
“To be honest, I didn’t even see ’em,” Jones said. “I don’t be on social media in the offseason, but if I would’ve known something, if it would’ve been something serious, Art would’ve called me, my agent would’ve called me, so other than that I was just locked in getting my body back.”
Jones had 137 tackles last year — 87 solo — that were numbers just off his Pro Bowl season of 2017. Last season marked his first without an interception.
He said it felt great to collide in practice with Jacksonville and test his shoulder.
“I couldn’t wait for that play, but it happened early,” Jones said. “It happened a couple of times. Knocking a little rust off, getting back in the groove of things and having fun what I’m doing. Doing what I do.”
BACK IN ACTION
The Jaguars got some good news Wednesday when cornerback Darious Williams (shoulder), rookie linebacker Devin Lloyd (hamstring), cornerback Shaquill Griffin (back) and reserve running back James Robinson (Achilles) were back at practice after missing considerable time.
Williams broke up a pass from Desmond Ridder to receiver Damiere Byrd. Lloyd, the No. 27 overall pick, took snaps with the second-team defense.
Defensive end Folorunso Fatukasi (calf) and offensive lineman Will Richardson Jr. (ankle) both were sidelined.
Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence likes the pace at which the offense is progressing in training camp. Lawrence and the other starters won’t play Saturday, so the joint practices with the Falcons have taken on deeper meaning.
“I really like where I’m at,” Lawrence said. “I think as far as the offense goes, I’m really comfortable. I’m getting more and more confident each day and still feel really good where I’m at with the receivers, tight ends and running backs. Protections have been really good.
“I love where we’re at. It’s about getting better every week, so we’ll see where we are in a few weeks.”
Falcons QB Marcus Mariota has been impressed with the competition on the offensive line. Two positions are still unsettled. Elijah Wilkinson and Jalen Mayfield are battling at left guard while Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman are fighting it out at center.
“It’s been great,” Mariota said. “I think the competition is awesome in that room and I think eventually we’ll find the right five guys, but they’ve all done a great job.”