HOUSTON — The guy the Falcons will be relying on the match wits with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady in Sunday’s Super Bowl is a 22-year-old kid who has started more games at middle linebacker this season than he did in his entire career at LSU.
And he’s excited about the opportunity.
“It’s going to be fun,” said rookie Deion Jones, who led the Falcons with 108 tackles this season and makes all of the on-field calls and checks for the defense. “I can’t wait for that matchup.”
Jones is one of five potential rookie starters for the Falcons on Sunday, which would be a Super Bowl record.
“We always talk about it,” Jones said of his fellow first-year players. “We talk about how blessed we are and how we couldn’t have been put together with a better team, with the bunch of veterans that we have and the leadership we have in the locker room. I mean, it fit us perfectly. We’re so blessed to be here. It’s been fun for us, and I’m pretty sure it’s been fun for the guys who have been trying to groom us also.”
Jones is one of five, but he is arguably the most important because he’ll be the one squaring off with a four-time Super Bowl winner who is nearly twice his age.
“We just have to stick to our rules on defense and pay attention to our details,” he said. “I feel like that’s the only way we’re going to get to him . . . We know our process, we know what we have to do, we know what type of team we have. We know our style of play. We just have to stick to that and that’s pretty much it.”
The Falcons didn’t know they would have a rookie starting at middle linebacker when they selected Jones in the second round of April’s draft.
“We wanted to learn him and find out as much as we can,” coach Dan Quinn said of the first workouts after the draft. “That’s the real challenge when the rookies come in. For the coaches, how well can we learn the guys so we can feature them in the best way? When you spend all that time together and you challenge [them], when you find out all the unique things they can do, we knew he could run and we knew the hit factor was there. And then, could we get all the rules down for him?”
It took a few bumps in the road, but they did.
“There was definitely a shift in his game, I’d say about five or six weeks ago, where not only did he have his assignment down, but he could get the communication out to other players,” Quinn said. “That’s when we saw a shift take place where not only can he take care of his assignment, but he can tell the guy who’s right next to him, ‘Hey, this alert, this may happen.’ We’ve been really pleased with his development so far.”
Unlike Quinn, Jones said he could not pinpoint a game when he felt he belonged. But he remembers the feeling.
“It was just when I realized I could take my game to the next level,” he said. “DQ always talks about getting one percent better and I realized that was my one percent. I’m trying to be better every week, week in and week out. Of course there are other things. As a mike linebacker you really need to find your voice and lead the team, lead the defense. It’s guys working with me and me working on my own to take my game to the next level. I still have a way to go, I still have times where I think ‘I should have said something there.’ It’s a whole growing process.”
One that now brings him to the Super Bowl, where he’ll look across the line of scrimmage and into the eyes of Brady.
“I’m anxious,” Jones said. “This is exciting.”