Los Angeles Chargers third-round draft selection Justin Jones knows the bar is set high for him in his first season. He plans to meet it — and then some.
The Los Angeles Chargers begin training camp on Saturday, July 28, and while fans will be eager to see returning players like Joey Bosa, Melvin Gordon and Melvin Ingram make a splash, perhaps the most exciting storylines of camp are the rookies’. They’re unproven, full of potential and ready to prove themselves.
When it comes down to it, third-round draft pick, defensive tackle Justin Jones, knows he still has everything to prove — to his teammates, to Chargers fans. And he’s ready to do it.
Jones spoke to FanSided after offseason training activities, as he was relocating from North Carolina to his new home in the greater Los Angeles area. “I’m just putting my apartment together, living that L.A. life,” he says, noting that he’s living seven minutes from the practice facility.
Jones brings a big personality with him to the City of Lights, and by now, you probably already know the story of his draft day.
When Jones got the call from the Chargers letting him know he’d been drafted, he was in probably the worst place to take such a call — the shower. How did he end up there? “Well, my agents told me the sweet spot for me to get drafted would probably be No. 86, 87,” Jones days. And on Day 2 of the draft, Jones decided to unwind for a bit at the bowling alley — keeping on eye on draft updates.
“I don’t mean to be that guy,” he says, “but I saw the names getting drafted and I hadn’t even heard of some of them.” So he decided to head home. “I guess I’m not going today,” he thought.
Sweaty from bowling, he decided to hop in the shower. Naturally. “And then the phone rings and I’m like, ‘Oh man!’” he recalls, laughing. It’s a good thing he heard it at all. “I had put the ringer on loud and kept it close just in case I got a call in those last couple picks,” he says.
“There’s always something to learn and there’s always something to get better at.”—Justin Jones
Now, Jones is hoping to build off a solid rookie minicamp and OTAs period when he begins training camp Saturday.
“I think I did pretty well,” he says about rookie camp. “I think the rookies in general did pretty well, as far as technique and coaching. They made the playbook as simple as possible for us to understand.”
Does he feel ready for everything that training camp is going to throw his way?
“There’s always something to learn and there’s always something to get better at. I’m ready physically; mentally, I still have a lot to learn outside of the playbook aspect, like pre-snap reads and understanding formations.”
Jones is in an interesting position to start the season with the Chargers. As a third-round draft pick, he might not be called on to play right away.
But with Corey Liuget suspended for four games to start the 2018 season and the Chargers’ woeful track record in defending the run last season (No. 31 overall), Los Angeles needs help, stat. It might come in the form of Jones.
When asked if he might get the nod during the first quarter of the season, he’s deferential, but confident. “I know as of right now we still have some pretty good D-tackles in there, so I’m just trying to do my job well,” he says. “Going in, you want to play, so I have that mind-set. Right now I’m just trying to get reps with the 1’s.”
It’s going to be a huge focus of the Chargers’ defense this year; after all, this is a division which throws the Kansas City Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt, Oakland Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin and Denver Broncos Devontae Booker at them twice a year.
While there were many reasons Los Angeles whiffed against the run, the interior D-line was chief among them.
But Jones doesn’t seem so fazed by that, or the competition in the division. “Working against Melvin Gordon, one of the best running backs in the NFL, and seeing how we defend him in our scheme…I think we’ll be okay,” he says.
One of the aspects of Jones’ game that caught the Chargers eye this year in the draft is his positional versatility; he can theoretically play the 1 or 3 technique.
In offseason workouts, he says the team had him at the 3 tech spot, so that will be something to watch for as the team prepares to open training camp. “They said I’ve been doing a pretty good job there,” he says. “But I still have a lot to learn.”
The Chargers haven’t made the playoffs since the 2013 season, and the Philip Rivers era is drawing to a close. But Jones brings with him a history and a mentality of winning from NC State, where he played on a something of a dream team.
Jones was one of four NC State defensive linemen taken in this year’s draft. The others? Not too shabby company.
Defensive end Bradley Chubb went No. 5 to the Denver Broncos. The New York Giants selected defensive tackle B.J. Hill in the third round with the No. 69 overall selection. And defensive end Kentavius Street was selected No. 128 overall in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers.
“We’re closer than any other group I’ve ever been around,” Jones says, noting that even though all four of them have gone their separate ways since the draft, they still talk every day.
They also pushed each other to be better. “We competed every day,” Jones said. “And the competition got so childish, we’d get up in the morning and start running to the door to see who would get there faster.”
The exciting thing for Chargers fans to know is that, so far, Jones is seeing a lot of similarities with his Chargers linemates in Bosa, Damion Square, Brandon Mebane and Liuget. “Everybody in there is very close with each other, and that’s the biggest thing. Once you get guys like that, you play for each other.”
There’s no question Jones’ NC State teammates pushed him to excel. As a senior in 2017, he totaled 34 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 13 starts.
Now, his Chargers family will do the same for him — and vice versa. Jones says he feels so privileged to go from one great D-line to another great D-line. “It’s really crazy, but God works in mysterious ways.”
And now he’ll get to see his good pal Chubb twice a year as part of the Chargers-Broncos rivalry — something he’s especially looking forward to. “I just told him to take these losses twice a year and use them as motivation,” Jones says, laughing.
Jones is originally from New York — and, yes, Chargers fans, he did grow up rooting for the Giants — but he and his family moved to Georgia when he was young, after his grandmother passed away. He started playing football in sixth grade, and even though he admits he wasn’t very good when he first started out, what drew him to the sport was the friendships.
Just like Jones’ camaraderie with his NC State linemates and, now, his Chargers linemates is so important to him, so too were his early friendships in the sport.
“You start going to the BBQs, movies, birthday parties with these guys, and even if you’re not very good they still consider you one of the guys,” Jones says. “So all of a sudden, you’re making all these friends.”
Because of everything the sport had given him off the field, once ninth grade rolled around, Jones started putting everything he had into it — which clearly paid off in spades.
Now, the Chargers — and their fans — will benefit from his proven and powerful ability to channel the team camaraderie he values so highly into massive production on the field. If all goes well, that could start as early as Week 1.