GLENDALE, Ariz. — When the Cardinals sent guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for Chandler Jones, they obviously had an eye on upgrading their pass rush.
Jones notched 12.5 sacks for the Patriots last season and in four NFL seasons has brought down the QB 36 times. The Cardinals had 36 sacks last season — with nine of them coming in one game against the Green Bay Packers — and the hope is that Jones is the kind of pass rusher to build around.
Until the games begin, Jones’ impact on Arizona’s defense will not be known. But as the preseason is about to start, it appears he is already having an impact on the team’s offense.
As in, Jones is making the Cardinals’ offense better.
“Jared Veldheer actually thanked me the other day for bringing in Chandler Jones,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday. “Sometimes you don’t think about, Chandler Jones was brought in to make our defense much better, but Jared Veldheer told me in six or seven years of playing in the NFL he’s never practiced on a daily basis with a guy as talented as Chandler Jones, so that’s making him better.
“So sometimes it’s that double-edged sword that you don’t think about. Not only does he make our defense better, he’s making Jared Veldheer better on a daily basis.”
Veldheer is entering his third season with the Cardinals and since signing as a free agent in 2014 has been one of the better left tackles in the NFL. A mountain of a man at 6-foot-8 and about 330 pounds, he has matched up with some of the best pass rushers in the league — last season in practice, for example, he squared off with future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney. When asked where the 26-year-old Jones ranks, the left tackle put his new teammate near the top.
“He’s up there; he’s the top pass-rush guy,” Veldheer said. “He’s got a ton of moves and he’s crazy athletic. He can bend the corner really well and he gets that edge well.
“He’s fun to go against; he challenges you.”
Veldheer said Jones has helped him with making sure he keeps his pads down. With Jones’ help, he’s improving at being able to play a speed-to-power game while keeping the edge protected.
So while helping their own tackles may not have been the goal when acquiring Jones, it’s certainly not a bad byproduct.
“It makes Veldheer better, it makes D.J. (Humphries) better because they’re going against a Pro Bowl player every single snap,” head coach Bruce Arians said of Jones’ impact on the offense. “It’s great competition because he brings it every day. He’s one guy that I don’t have to worry about practicing hard. He practices hard every day.”
Indeed, the battles between Jones and Veldheer — and sometimes Humphries — have been something to watch. It would be difficult to say one player has gotten the better of the other, and aside from an early-camp play where the linebacker just destroyed guard Evan Mathis, the offensive linemen have mostly held their own.
If blocking Jones has been difficult for the tackles, it’s by design.
“He’s a guy that teams will leave a tackle with a tight end next to him or chip block, and all camp long we really haven’t done that,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “We’ve made it as hard on Jared and D.J. as we could and just leave them one-on-one with him.”
Palmer has also been impressed with Jones’ ability to stop the run, noting the former Patriot is “not a pass rushing specialist.”
“He’s not a guy that you think of, you only have to worry about on third down,” he said. “We’ve run the ball at him, he’s stuffed it. We’ve run the ball away from him, he’s tracked it down from the backside. Just another complete player.”
Humphries said he is tired of having to block Jones and Markus Golden because, as he puts it, “they’re so good.” Golden is another player who figures to benefit from Jones’ presence. As more attention is paid to the latter player, the former should find an easier road to the opposing quarterback.
Asked about facing premier Oakland pass rusher Khalil Mack, who had 15 sacks last season, Humphries said it’s always nice to have a measuring stick but provided a caveat.
“I feel like it can’t be that much different from what I go against every day,” he said. “I go against Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, I mean, those are nobody shabby by a long stretch. I think I’m getting good competition every day to prepare myself for it.”
Given Arizona’s style of defense as well as the weapons in the front seven, there is no telling if Jones will approach a Mack-like sack total in 2015. Then again, while sacks are something to strive for, the player’s impact may be felt in other ways.
A quarterback hurry could lead to a poor throw, which could be intercepted. A quarterback hit — or a few — could rattle a passer, which will cause him to struggle later in the game. And if an offense gears its blocking scheme toward slowing Jones, another player like Golden will likely be there to finish the play.
That was no doubt at the front of the organization’s mind when it made the trade last March.
But along with stopping opposing offenses, Jones is also helping his own.
“Just having a Pro Bowl guy to go up against every day, it’s like the iron sharpens iron,” Veldheer said. “When you’re playing up against a good player like that every day, it makes you better. It makes you bring your A-game every day.”
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