Bills training camp questions: What does a healthy DaQuan Jones mean for the defense?


Staff member

This is the sixth question of 10 in a series previewing Buffalo Bills training camp. Today: What does a healthy DaQuan Jones mean for the defense?

DaQuan Jones was impossible to miss through the first four weeks of the 2023 season.

That’s not just because the Buffalo Bills’ defensive tackle is an imposing 6-foot-4, 320 pounds. Despite that size, defensive tackle in the Bills’ scheme can sometimes be a thankless position, tasked more with freeing up teammates as opposed to making big plays.

Bills defensive tackle DaQuan Jones signed a two-year contract to remain with the team this offseason. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

Jones, however, was tired of that narrative. Through the Bills’ 3-1 start to the season, he was a force on the interior of the defensive line, with 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hits. He played at least 50% of the defensive snaps in three of those four games – a number that would have been higher had it not been for blowout wins in three games that allowed the coaching staff to lift the starters early.

Jones was on his way to achieving the recognition that has long eluded him, as he was being talked about as a potential All-Pro candidate.

“Honestly, I feel like my entire career, I’ve kind of been forced into this ‘sidekick’ role and being labeled as something that I’m truly not,” he told The Buffalo News during the spring. “Fighting that stigma my whole career has been probably the most frustrating thing.”

Jones was well on his way to doing just that until disaster struck. Four defensive plays into the Bills’ Week 5 game against the Jaguars in London, Jones suffered a torn pectoral muscle. That’s an injury that typically knocks a player out for the rest of the season, but Jones didn’t want to go out like that. He rehabbed the injury and returned by Week 17 of the regular season.

In a contract year, Jones could have focused on himself and getting healthy. Instead, he worked hard to get back on the field.

“The easy route would have been to say ‘Hey, I’m shutting it down,’” he said. “I wanted to prove to teams around the league and even the team here, ‘I’m healthy and I’m going to work for what I want.’”

In an odd twist, the injury might have helped the Bills retain Jones by depressing his free-agent market. The team re-signed him to a two-year deal this offseason with a maximum value of $16 million.

Listening to his coaches and teammates rave about him, it’s no surprise that General Manager Brandon Beane prioritized re-signing Jones.

“He’s our leader,” Bills defensive line coach Marcus West said. “DQ is our vet. ‘DQ’ is the one who is starting the practices and starting our meetings with me. He’s calling me to want to know the game plan, the overall big picture, of not just what we’re doing, but the intentions of what we’re doing − how we’re going to utilize everybody in the room. How does he communicate to put the pieces of the puzzle together? He’s our game-caller. He’s our communicator. He’s done a very good job of taking ownership of a leadership role.”

Even if recognition from outside his own locker room has sometimes been slow to come, that type of praise provides Jones with a different kind of fulfillment.

“There is no greater honor. I think when you get the respect of your peers and your teammates and coaches, that goes a long way. It kind of helps ignore the outside noise as far as individual stats and all that stuff,” he said. “Knowing that my teammates see me as the player that I want to be and they respect that part and back me up on that, it just gives me more confidence and keeps me in a more positive frame of mind going forward when it comes to the ups and downs of a season.”

Getting hurt when he was in the midst of such a strong season hit Jones hard. He had finally found a role in which he was more than just a part-time player.

“It was just opportunity that the team gave me last year allowing me to go out there and play all downs, really,” he said. “I kind of showed the league and my peers around the league what I can do. Coming out of Tennessee where I was a first- and second-down guy, just forced into that role, then Carolina, even here, last year really having the opportunity to go out there the first five weeks of the season and play my style of football, all downs, I got to showcase my talents.”

That’s why the Bills prioritized bringing back Jones, even though he’ll turn 33 during the 2024 season. It’s rare for Beane to commit big money in free agency to a player over 30 years old – Von Miller being the one exception – so doing so for Jones speaks to the value the franchise has placed on him. He raises the level of play of those around him, notably fellow defensive tackle Ed Oliver. He also makes life easier for linebackers Terrel Bernard and Matt Milano, while occupying blockers to give Miller, Greg Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa better rush matchups.

“We all know what type of player he is,” defensive coordinator Bobby Babich said. “To me, it’s the consistency in the leadership in that room. You want players that are consistent, right? … You don’t want guys that are riding the roller coaster. You don’t want people that you work with that ride the roller coaster, you don’t know what you’re getting every day. He’s the same every day.

“Same work ethic, same attention to details. He provides leadership for us. We talk about, you know, ‘You’re either growing or you’re dying a little bit. You’re never staying the same.’ He’s constantly working to that growth, and it’s fun to watch.”

Jones estimated that when he returned to the lineup last year for the Bills’ final two regular-season games and two postseason contests, he was playing at about 60%.
“It was to a point, we wrapped it up, it wouldn’t tear again,” he said. “It attached down to the bone, but the strength, my right arm just wasn’t there. I still was able to knock people back and do that type of stuff, but just to take it to that next level was kind of missing. Coming back and putting on the pads was tough. You’re out for 11 weeks or however long it was, you kind of miss that groove. Just trying to get that back was also very frustrating, but I tried to rely more so on the basic fundamentals and help in any way that I could.”

Now with a full offseason to recover, Jones is 100% and ready to get back to the level of play he showed at the start of 2023.

“It means a lot that they wanted me to come back here and play for this organization,” he said. “I would never take anything for granted. Hopefully this year I can go out and continue to do what I did last year. ... In my mind, given the opportunity, I can re-create what I did last year.”