Sun, 26 Sep 2021

DaQuan Jones: Leading by example

Carolina Panthers
31 Jul 2021, 05:44 GMT+10

Darin Gantt

SPARTANBURG - It's one thing for a coaching staff to tell a group of players how to become winners; how to change the course of an entire organization.

Showing them also works.

The Panthers signed veteran defensive tackle DaQuan Jones this offseason for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact he's good at football.

But he's also seen first-hand how to patch a leaky boat, how to bail the water, and how to eventually sail it into the playoffs.

Jones spent his first seven years in the league with the Titans. He was a fourth-round pick in 2014, and they promptly went 2-14 and 3-13 upon his arrival. Since then, however, they've added talent, changed coaches, and posted five straight winning records and three playoff berths in the last four years.

They'd like to do that here, too.

"All I do is come in and work," Jones said of walking into a leadership role. "People just gravitate to you; it's not that you pull them along. I'm not a big hoo-rah guy, but at the same time, I come in and enforce the little things I saw in seven years in Tennessee that really changed the culture, going from 2-14 to 9-7 to 11-5.

"Just the little details you see every day on the field and in the locker room, if it's running between periods, if it's being five minutes early to meetings, it's a huge step. It really translates."

Improving teams takes more than talking about it, as the Titans added significantly to their personnel. But Jones said that many of the changes were ones of attitude and workplace environment.

"Really you've got to go out, excuse my language, and kill the bitching," Jones said. "People are going to complain; training camp is hard. But the complaining will divide a team and challenge authority and challenge what coaches want. You've got to nip that in the bud and get everyone to buy in and be on the same page in the process.

"It's like anything; it's repetitive. You keep saying it, you keep doing it, and one day guys buy into it. The next day, the guy that's barking the opposite way is standing by himself. He's going to have to make a choice. He's either going to have to go somewhere else or tag along."

And while he was still getting to know his teammates, Jones also showed his new teammates what that daily commitment looked like.

When the Panthers were coming to the end of the OTA and minicamp season, there was a significant emphasis on situational football (since they lost eight one-score games last year). Part of that emphasis was on a specific technique on field goals, and when it came time to implement it in the final practice, Jones did it right. Other linemen did not. As a result, head coach Matt Rhule called the team up, pointed out the mistake, mentioned that Jones had done it correctly, then sent them out to do it again.

It was one play at the end of minicamp, but it could matter some day.

"I don't want to get into too much detail and give away our secrets," Jones said of the particular play. "But little details we installed. We talked about it the day before, it came up in practice, and it just wasn't executed by everyone on the front.

"It's just small things like that, once we get that stuff going, it's going to be a huge change in the team. That's a small thing, but it's a huge example of how we're going to get this thing going."

That sequence is part of why Jones has become a fast favorite of coaches, who use him as an object lesson and cite his leadership regularly.

"DaQuan Jones is exactly that," Rhule said. "He came from a team that went 2-14 and 3-13 then flipped it and went to the playoffs every year and expected to go. He knows the commitments to situational football and the commitment to studying your opponents.

"It's not just showing up and wearing a cool outfit and being ready to go on game day. It's the work and the grind and the preparation. If you're a young player on this team and you go talk to DaQuan, you can't say you don't know what it takes to be a pro. He's a pro's pro."

That doesn't mean he's not human. Jones admitted it was difficult picking up and moving after making a home in Nashville, with his family staying in Tennessee while he's away at camp. His wife Alexis has also just launched a company called Noted, which helps consumers return packages on time, and also connects them with local non-profits. And not being able to be there to support her at the moment is hard for him.

"It's definitely a challenge, but being here, being in camp helps push that away a little, because you're back doing what you love to do. But it definitely sucks, day to day," Jones said. "I'm really proud of her. We're both doing our things. I can't be any more happy and proud of her. I'm so happy she's got this company, and I can't wait to watch it grow the next few months.

"You want to see, just the way she comes to my games and cheers me on, you want to see her do her first couple sales, and see her hit certain milestones. I know she's going to do that over the course of the year, but I'm going to make sure I call every day to see how it's going. It's definitely tough, but at the same time, we're both making sacrifices for our family."

Missing those moments is hard for Jones. But doing those hard things on purpose is why he's here, and the Panthers hope others emulate it.

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