FOXBORO - After just four padded practices, it's a tad early to debate whether Chandler Jones deserves All-Pro consideration.
But the rookie first-rounder from Syracuse has been surprisingly competent for a player who figured to be facing a long period of acclimation.
Rep after rep, drill after drill, play after play, the long, lean Jones has shown he's not going to shrink in the face of stepped-up competition. Frequently matched up with left tackle Nate Solder, Jones has won more than his share of battles and shown surprising strength and an array of moves.
The fact that Jones is enjoying himself is written all over his face every time he takes his helmet off. He rarely stops smiling.
"I'm having a great time. I'm enjoying everything. I'm having a phenomenal time," said Jones after Wednesday's practice in the stadium. "What I'm doing is treating every day like game day and I'm just letting those days stack and then stringing them together."
The player Jones was most often compared to when he was drafted was Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants. Pierre-Paul had a very solid first season (4.5 sacks, six pass deflections, two forced fumbles) but turned into a force in his second season. It stood to reason that Jones would follow a similar track. And he quite possibly still could. But there are signs at this early stage that he hasn't yet bumped into anything he can't handle. He isn't just fast, quick, strong and long. He's putting pass rush moves together.
"I've known of the moves, I've seen them done before but my job every day is just to polish my craft and try to work on each and every move so I can have two or three moves to perfect and hopefully you'll see them on Sunday," said Jones.
The transition from college to the NFL at the edge position in the Patriots defense can be a rocky one. Players like Shawn Crable and Jermaine Cunningham are examples of how tough it can be.
Asked about that, Bill Belichick said the move to coverage responsibilities is what makes it hard.
"They go from being essentially a 4-3 end to a 3-4 outside linebacker and going into coverage," he explained. "Thats a huge transition because thats something that theyre not used to doing. If theyre going from a defensive end to a defensive end then its just going into the National Football League. Youre playing against bigger players with a little bit of different scheme, but youre just playing against a lot better players than you played against in college at the same position."
The nature of the current passing game in which quarterbacks are taking shorter drops and completing 65 percent of their passes regularly has changed the edge position in some ways. The ball comes out more quickly so ends have to compensate in other ways. One of those ways is simply disrupting by raising your arms. Pierre-Paul is a master at deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage. Jones has been described as having "vines for arms."
"I think the game is kind of ever-changing. Its not the same now as it was five years ago," Belichick explained. "It wasnt the same five years ago as it was five years before that. You can just keep right on going back."
Jones' exuberance, even as camp starts to grind, is unstinting.
"I had a dream and my dream was to play in the NFL and now that (I've realized that dream), I'm going to take advantage of it," he said. "If I'm not walking off the field exhausted, I'm not doing my job."