EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Datone Jones isn't a rookie, but he's approaching his first year in Minnesota with a student mentality.
The Vikings signed Jones as a free agent in March. Jones spent the first four years of his NFL career with the division-rival Packers, where he played both defensive end and outside linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 base defense. In Minnesota, he's expected to play defensive tackle.
Jones feels that his potential wasn't fully realized in Green Bay, and he's thrilled to be working with Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson.
"I felt like I was really underdeveloped," Jones said. "My coaches did work hard with me over there. I'm not going to say they didn't, but my opportunities were cut short. With the coaches that we have here, I feel like I'm still a younger guy, I still can be developed, and I have a lot more to give."
Jones said that Patterson is a "very technical coach," which Jones learned as soon as he stepped into Patterson's office.
"Already in just breaking down film, I've learned so much about myself that I didn't even know about – certain things that I could do to turn those quarterback hits into sacks," Jones said.
With the Vikings, Jones will likely play the 3-technique position.
He said his versatility allows him to play up and down the line, but playing inside feels natural to him. After his time in Green Bay, Jones is grateful for an opportunity to really hone his skills at defensive tackle.
"Here in Minnesota, they do things by keeping things simple for the players so that they can excel and be the best at what they do," Jones said. "I'm very excited to be able to do that."
He plans to take every opportunity he can to learn and improve as a player.
"I've played a lot of football at a lot of different positions, and I'm coming to Coach 'Dre as a sponge," Jones said. "I'm going to humble myself, and I'm going to learn his way of doing things. That's the only way of doing things – his way of doing things and [Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's] way of doing things. By doing that, I'll become a better football player."
When Patterson watches Jones play, he sees the untapped potential that Jones referenced. According to the d-line coach, Jones is a "big, strong, athletic player" that can bend and move well.
"He has all the traits that you look for in a 3-technique," Patterson said. "So that's what excites me about working with him. Now, can he master the techniques that come with playing that position great? That's the hard part – for me in coaching him, and for him in putting in the time and learning to master it.
"But the gifts that he has are gifts that I can't give him as a coach," Patterson added. "He was born with them."
Jones is also excited about joining a defensive line group that in 2016 combined for 344 tackles, 34 sacks and 252 quarterback hurries (coaches' tally) and sent two players – Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen – to the Pro Bowl.
Jones said that Joseph has been especially helpful in taking the newcomer under his wing.
"He's very generous already in the locker room," Jones said. "I've known him for [less than a month], but from day one, just making me feel more comfortable. Little things like sitting in the team room and saying, 'Hey, Datone, come sit right here. Come sit right next to me.' "
Jones has been participating in the Vikings voluntary offseason workout program at Winter Park, and he's looking forward to organized team activity practices kicking off later this month.
Patterson has already seen an incredible work ethic and learner's mentality from Jones, and Joseph isn't the only player eager to support his new teammate.
"[The other day], he had all 11 guys coaching him," Patterson said with a laugh. "He's getting a lot of information right now, but that's a good thing. Number one, it's a good thing that the guys take pride in what we do. And then number two, they see somebody here who can possibly help us."