Chargers Weekly- What Makes Defensive Tackle Justin Jones a Great Teammate

On an unseasonably hot Friday in Costa Mesa, right outside the Los Angeles Chargers facility, I sat down with the young and boisterous 4th-year defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Jones. My intention in requesting to sit down with Jones was to talk to him about his career in the NFL and how he’s grown since his rookie year, as years ago, he hardly spoke in the locker room. Along with sharing with you his growth and understanding his motivation.

After confidently telling me, cutting his dreadlocks off was not an option in an August press conference, he then showed up a few weeks later with a fade. He explained to me that “my attachments were getting weak, and my daughter was getting stronger.” So, he thought after 12 years, “it might be time to let them go; if they are going to be popping off like that.” 

Born in Bronx, NY, Justin moved around a lot. From New York he moved to Pennsylvania, Florida, then onto Georgia, all before the fifth grade. With only one younger brother, Justin used sports to make friends and build some comradery with some of the guys from these various neighborhoods he’s lived. 

“Patience! It’s humbled me a lot. Preparation is key; investing in yourself. Taking time to make your that you’re good and your mind is good.” These are the initial things that Justin said the game of football taught him. He also added, “If you don’t come in the building feeling like yourself, you’re not going to play like yourself at all. Not even talking about injuries and body soreness.” 

“When I go home, I watch a little football, but I try to stay away from it! I’ll watch a game or two at home, but I don’t go home and focus on football. I try to focus on my little girl, and I focus on my lady.” Justin says proudly! He also mentioned, “I’m trying to connect with my family back home. That’s one thing I wanted to do better this year because I’ve been on this side of the country for a long time and a lot of my family start assuming that I am busy all the time, and I stopped hearing from some of them. So I’ve reached out to them, to get rid of the awkwardness; I’ll take that lick.” 

“Starting out, going to N.C. State, I was only there for the brotherhood! I didn’t know where N.C. State, was when I first committed. I didn’t know if they were any good. I wasn’t a football fan for real; I was just playing because it brought me, friends. I moved around so much I didn’t have any friends; I didn’t have anyone to call my brother. Football gave me that; so that’s why it was important to me at the time. Football gave me a family! That’s why important it’s important to me; I hold it near and dear to my heart and I take it so seriously!” Jones candidly shared this with me.

When asked what he remembered about his draft day experience, Jones told me, “I remember we were at the bowling alley. I thought I was getting drafted on Day 2 and when it got to the end of the round… I was like man. Every time someone got drafted everybody is looking at me, awww… once it got to like pick 75, I was like ‘I guess I ain’t getting drafted today.’ I packed it up and I went home… I got in the shower, and then my phone started ringing and it was the Chargers.” 

Jones describes his first-time meeting Phillip Rivers in the locker room after being drafted. “Knowing Phillip Rivers played for the Chargers and me having an opportunity to being to be one of those guys to be on the same team as him, that was unreal. Me even walking into the locker room and seeing him at his locker, I was like, oh gosh!” He approached Rivers and said, “Big fan man,” then Rivers said to him, “About time we got another Wolfpack in here; god dang.” In his Southern twang.

“Think about the dynamic of the locker room I just came from, 21, 22… 20, 19; I came into the locker room (Brandon) Mebane 34, Melvin (Ingram) 30, you got (Damion) Square at 28, Joey at freaking 23… I’m playing with older guys now; these dudes have kids and families their trying to feed. You can’t come in here BS’ing you’ve got to come with it!” Jones says describing as his need for extreme focus hit him in his rookie season in the NFL.

During the latest Mic-Up live on www.chargers.com, Justin Jones pointed out that the Eagles Fletcher Cox is a player that he watched a lot and patterned his game after. Since I was sitting down with the 4-year veteran of the Chargers in lawn chairs outside their facility headquarters and roughly 120 yards from their practice fields, I thought it would be cool to hear from Jones as to why he chose to pattern his game after Cox. This is what he shared with me, “Well, he’s a physical defensive tackle. Like physical, get off the ball, helmet under your chin and knock you back, and make a play in the backfield. If you watch my game and you watch his game, he’s a mountain of a man. I ain’t that big, but what I can do, I can get off the ball pretty quick. So me being physical at the point of attack that’s all from him.” 

Jones would also add, “For me to get in the position that he’s in the majority of the time, he can get off the ball slow and still manhandle somebody, me I can’t do that. I got to be the first to engage. So, just taking those small bits out of his game, being able to knock guys back and cause disruption, cause havoc in the backfield; Make running backs stop their feet, and let your defense catch up to the play, that’s where I’m making my hay. I’m trying to be disruptive, and that’s messing them up cause offense doesn’t account for that in their schemes.” 

“If you look at my career, I’ve never been big into stats; I’ve never had the most stats. The most sacks, the most TFL (tackle for loss), I’ve never had that. What I’ve always had, I’ve always had disruptive capabilities. The capability to disrupt the play, I’ve always had the ability to knock somebody back; I’ve always had the ability to rush the passer; I’ve always had the ability to get in the backfield and mess something up. So that’s kind of how I make my hay!” Jones shows his self-awareness as he discusses his strengths and abilities on the football field.    

“Coach (Brandon) Staley has a basketball mindset. The basketball mindset is we’re always trying to find the best matchups. I guess that’s in any sport, but more so in basketball, because you can win the game with one guy, one guy can change the whole game. If you take that mindset and iso on one guy who can’t guard you and put your best guy on him. Or vice versa, let’s take their best player right, let’s take somebody who really shouldn’t be rushing him, and let’s put him on him, so he can be occupied while we take care of everybody else. Isolating those matchups and taking advantage of all the matchups is what he’s good at, and it’s freaking genius, in my mind! Because I feel like a lot of people don’t do that, A lot of teams don’t. They try to run their stuff and hope it works.” Jones explained to me how he views his Head Coach and how he gained the player’s respect.

I was also curious what other sports Justin played growing up he surprised me when he said, “I played Lacrosse in high school.” I followed up with how did playing Lacrosse helped you on the football field. “It helped me with my conditioning. I was running around a lot. It was the off-season, so I played Lacrosse.” He only played in his Sophomore and Junior year, and Jones proudly told me, “I still got my sticks now.” I then asked if he was sick with the sticks Jones responded by confidently saying “Man, I was cold.”   

When I asked him what he would be doing if he weren’t playing football, Jones told me, “I got my degree in Sport Management, so I would probably be trying to work at a Recreational Facility. My whole plan for this degree was to open up a Recreational Facility and give out jobs to my family members in my area of Georgia. We have a lot of single-parent households, and a lot of single parents think they have to do everything on their own. It takes a village to raise anybody. We were going to offer so many things to the community. I’ve had this all planned out for a long time.” 

As we know, this is a talented Chargers team, and I thought it would be cool to hear his description of some of the players on his team. So, I proposed playing a name association game with him, where I would mention a player’s name, and he would tell me the first thing that came to his mind describing his teammates;

Derwin James- “Smart!”     

Joey Bosa- “Elite!”

Linval Joseph- “Wow!”

Justin Herbert- “Special!” 

Keenan Allen- “Slay!”

Austin Ekeler- “Pound-for-pound”

Rashawn Slater- “He’s Special too, now!”

It was a pleasure to sit down with Justin Jones. His understanding of the game was impressive, and I was not expecting him to be as detailed when talking about the game as he was; this was impressive for me and made this interview more enjoyable! Cleary Justin is a team player that learns from his environment. He is sharp enough to share his knowledge of the game with his teammates, his passion and communication skills have made him a leader on this team, and I could see him becoming a football coach at some point in his lifetime.

Kindly share your thoughts on Justin Jones’, his career, and what impact you believe he will have on this Chargers team moving forward. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or shoot me an email at info@whatsgoodinsports.com. I encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics, angles, or players on this Los Angeles Chargers team you would like to read about this season.

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