EAGAN, Minn. — An old coaching connection helped Daronte Jones land with the Vikings.
Jones was recently hired as the Vikings defensive backs coach after spending the past two seasons in Cincinnati, where he was hired by former Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis.
The 2018 campaign was the last of Lewis' 16-season run with the Bengals, but it gave Jones a chance to learn from the veteran mind. And a chance for Jones and Lewis to chat about Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati from 2008 to 2013 before coming to Minnesota.
Jones, who met with the Twin Cities media earlier this week, said he's always admired Zimmer and his defenses from afar and often inquired about him with Lewis.
"The question should be, 'When didn't it come up?' " Jones said with a laugh. "Just in terms of the foundation and the system there [in Cincinnati], it naturally came from Mike Zimmer. Just got to get back to the ground work of where it all started from [is great]. They kept in contact a lot, and we were always watching film and studying what they were doing [in Minnesota].
"Really, through being in this system before … it's really similar," Jones also added. "Coaching with Marvin Lewis back in Cincinnati, and then having some conversations with Coach Zimmer in the past and working through those was the process at the time. It felt like a natural fit."
Now that Jones works at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center and has an office down the hall from Zimmer, he said he's interested in learning everything he can.
View photos of the Vikings 2020 coaching staff.
Zimmer is 57-38-1 in six seasons with the Vikings, and has built a defense that has finished in the top nine in points allowed per game in each of the past five years.
"It's no secret that he's a secondary guy. His secondaries in the past have had tremendous success and his defenses as a whole," Jones said of Zimmer, who began his NFL coaching career in 1994 as an assistant defensive backs coach. "Just learning from a mind like that and with the experience that he has … learning the details, progression, teaching of individual players and helping them craft their technique … I can definitely learn from him.
"You watch [the Vikings defense] on tape, and one thing you notice is that you see guys that are smart. You see tough players, guys that are dependable and are playing instinctively. They're making plays," Jones added. "Then you wonder, 'OK, it's not a trend and had stood the test of time? So, what are they doing year-in and year-out that the guys have confidence and are playing fast?' Now that [I'm] a part of it, just learning the process here … I'm excited about that."
Jones is entering his fifth NFL season, having spent a pair of two-year stints with the Dolphins (2016 and 2017) and Bengals (2018 and 2019).
Prior to joining the Dolphins, Jones served as the defensive backs coach at the University of Wisconsin in 2015, when the Badgers team led the nation with just seven passing touchdowns allowed.
Wisconsin ranked seventh nationally in passing defense, and Badgers defensive backs recorded 11 interceptions after tallying just four in 2014.
Jones was a defensive back for Morgan State from 1997 to 2000 before beginning a coaching career that has included stops at Lenoir-Rhyne and Bowie State (Division II schools), Nicholls State (FCS) and Division I programs such as Hawaii, UCLA and Wisconsin.
Jones, who was the defensive backs coach for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League in 2011, said he's excited for the next stop on his journey.
The Vikings defensive features key pieces such as perennial Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith, plus 2018 first-round cornerback Mike Hughes. But there are also question marks heading into the offseason. Safety Anthony Harris and cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are scheduled to be free agents when their contracts expire on March 18 at the start of a new league year.
Jones said he's going to coach up whoever is on the roster when players return to the team facility on April 20 for voluntary offseason workouts.
"The same thing that excited me about the overall group … just how they play, the intensity they play with. They care, they're interconnected and know how their job affects the person next to them," Jones said. "One of the things you see on tape is how they want to see their teammates have success more than they want to have success. When everyone works like that, it can bring success.
"I'm definitely excited about doing this, this organization, all of the talented players and experience we have as a unit," Jones added.