A program that consistently churns out NFL talent, the Pittsburgh Panthers have had at least one player drafted seven years in a row. The 2021 NFL Draft will make it eight straight, as several players that donned the Blue and Gold are bound to play on Sundays this fall.
One of their most impressive prospects is EDGE Patrick Jones II. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds, Jones has been one of the best performers in the ACC over the past two years, as he recorded 24 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks in 22 games.
I had an opportunity to discuss Jones’ journey with him. From the camaraderie he helped build at Pittsburgh to his advanced pass rush arsenal, we had a long conversation that paints a picture of why he’s one of the best EDGE defenders in this class.
JM: You went back to school for the 2020 season and had a terrific year in which you totaled nine sacks. You were one of the most feared quarterback hunters in the country. You did a great job building on the success of your 2019 campaign which saw you account for 8.5 sacks. How do you reflect on your last year at Pittsburgh?
PJ: It was a different season. The global pandemic made it a very unique year. I had a good season. It was a huge blessing for me. I feel like I fell short of some of my goals, though. Yeah, I had nine sacks but I could have had more. I left a couple of plays out there. A pass rusher never wants to do that. I missed a few opportunities. I could have had a double-digit sack season. Overall, it was a pretty good season for me.
JM: You were also voted a team captain for the first time in 2020. That's quite the honor. What was that experience like?
PJ: That was an amazing feeling. To know that my teammates thought that highly of me, it’s the ultimate reward. It’s an honor that blew my mind away. I was so thankful to have the respect of my peers. It honestly meant everything to me.
JM: The Pittsburgh defense has been one of my favorites to watch over the past few years. You guys had so many players at all levels of the defense that will play on Sundays. Tell me about the camaraderie that you guys had on that side of the ball?
PJ: We were just one big family. The whole team was one big family. I just felt like we had something special on defense. We all fed off one another. We worked together. We played for one another. When it came time to make plays, nobody was selfish about it. If somebody made a play, we all celebrated. We had a great time together. There was never any envy or anything like that. I think it showed on the field. We grinded together.
JM: You played opposite another great pass rusher in Rashad Weaver. You two formed one of the best defensive end duos in the nation. It looked like you guys had great chemistry.
PJ: It was amazing to play alongside him. I always knew I was out there with another great player. We had so many great players on our defense, that goes without saying, but it was a little bit different with Rashad and I because we played the same position. We were always on the field together. We had so much respect for one another. It brought a different level of competition to the locker room. That competition is what drove our defense at the end of the day. When he went out there and made a play, I knew I had to go out there and make the next play and vice versa. That ongoing competition was a beautiful thing.
JM: I love that. What was your experience at the Senior Bowl like?
PJ: It was cool. I wish I would have played a little bit better during the practice portion. Other than that, it was cool. When I come out to practice, I’m looking to learn something new. I was searching for new ways to play defense. That was the first time I’ve been coached by an NFL coaching staff so that was a great experience. I was trying to learn something from that coaching staff. It was very different from the type of coaching you receive in college. I was just out there trying to learn something. I tried to focus on getting better and I believe I did that.
JM: Which offensive lineman did you enjoy doing battle with at practice?
PJ: The dude from Cincinnati [James Hudson III] was pretty good. I really enjoyed going up against him.
JM: Did you have a lot of formal meetings down there?
PJ: I met with all 32 teams formally.
JM: Did you have a great meeting with one or two teams in particular?
PJ: I felt like I had a good connection with almost every team I met with. It was great to meet so many NFL teams. I was just so excited to be there (laughs). I was so ecstatic to talk to everybody in the meeting room. I can’t single out any teams in particular. I definitely had a few excellent meetings.
JM: What did the Pittsburgh coaching staff ask of you within the scheme of their defense?
PJ: We played more of a penetration-style defense. We had some plays where we had to keep contain, but the goal of our defense was to penetrate and cause havoc in the backfield. If we could penetrate, it allowed us to make a lot of plays in the backfield.
JM: What’s your favorite part of playing the EDGE position?
PJ: To rush the passer, of course. I love to sack the quarterback. That’s my favorite thing to do. When you’re out there on the edge, you’re by yourself on that island. That’s what I’m most comfortable with. That’s what I love to do. To go out there and get an opportunity to beat a guy one-on-one, that’s what I live for. Going out there and hitting somebody is my favorite part of the game.
JM: I thought you might say that. Let’s get into your pass rush arsenal. What do you consider your go-to moves?
PJ: I have two go-to moves right now and they’re very different. One is the long-arm. That’s my go-to power move, the long-arm. The move I work off of that one would be the ghost. The ghost is somewhat similar to the long-arm but you don’t actually touch your opponent, you drop it and it turns into something like the dip-and-rip move. The idea is to set up the offensive lineman with the long-arm enough to where he’s always expecting power, and then I just dip by him with the ghost.
JM: I love that. We saw your long-arm stab against Delaware State back in 2019. That was a gorgeous rep.
PJ: I definitely plan on incorporating more of that move at the next level. One thing I noticed at the Senior Bowl is that a lot of offensive linemen weren’t shooting two hands at once, they were shooting just one hand. The long-arm stab works perfectly in that scenario. When you stab with the inside arm, and you pin that inside shoulder back, it forces them to shoot their other hand and when they do that as you come through, it just works perfectly. That’s what I call the stab club.
JM: Not only are you an excellent pass rusher, and we’ve touched on that a lot tonight, but you’re a great run stopper as well. You’ve never neglected that aspect of the game. How did you develop that part of your game?
PJ: You gotta have that aggressive side of you. You gotta be able to turn it on and go heads up with somebody that’s 330 pounds. You have to be physical. That’s something I can hang my hat on. I take a lot of pride in that. I feel like I do a great job playing in the run game. I come off the ball with a physical mindset. I’m trying to push an O-lineman back into the pocket. That’s what you have to do in the run game. I feel like when you’re a run defender, the most important thing is having a great strike off the ball. If you can do that, you’re going to accomplish a lot in the run game. Everything else opens up.
JM: It shows on tape. If you could choose the quarterback you record your first career sack on, who would you choose and why?
PJ: I’d have to say Tom Brady. That’s the GOAT right there, man. He’s going to go down as the best of all time. If I got a sack on him, that would be amazing.
JM: Is there an NFL pass rusher that you would love a chance to speak with and pick their brain?
PJ: T.J. Watt. He has so many moves in his bag. I could see myself using a lot of the same moves that he does. I try to emulate him a little bit. The way he rushes the passer, he’s just so effective. I feel like he’s always in the pocket knocking the quarterback down. I would love to better understand how he finishes his moves. I would welcome the opportunity to pick his brain and ask him how he’s so successful with what he does.
JM: That’s a great choice. This has been terrific, Patrick. I’ve really appreciated your time tonight. In closing, what kind of impact is Patrick Jones II going to make at the next level?
PJ: I’m going to bring everything I have. I’m a student of the game. I’m gonna come in and learn. I’m gonna dedicate everything I have to the game of football. At the end of the day, this is what I’ve chosen to do with my life. This is my job now. Most importantly, I want to help the team win ball games. I’ll do anything I can to help my team on Sunday.
- Jun 24, 2022
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