Chandler Jones' controlled pursuit of perfection

Chandler Jones' controlled pursuit of perfection
January 10, 2014, 10:45 am
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FOXBORO -- Chandler Jones creates a wake as he lopes through the locker room Wednesday. It is the week before New England's first playoff game of his sophomore season. There are twice as many reporters as usual on hand, and usually, there are a lot.

Jones cuts through the crowd and quickly covers the length of the room with long strides. Milling bodies pool in the space left behind him and cautiously follow along.

But the defensive end grins and shakes his head at the mob. He promised a solo interview and, though he hates to disappoint anyone, refuses to renege.

"I'm outgoing. I would rather everybody else be comfortable than me," Jones admits.

"Pretty much my whole life I've always been positive about things, always trying to be right. I might have a small case of OCD. I'm always trying to be right. I always want to be perfect. Always. I try to be."

His broad smile nearly betrays him. But Jones is quite serious.

The 23-year old presents as something of a paradox. There is strength and power in his game. He was drafted in the first round in 2012 to be a pass rusher and stop the run -- as he tells it, "to be an all-around defensive player."

Check.

Jones has 11.5 sacks, 75 tackles and 66 total pressures this year. He also serves as a wellspring of energy. When Jones makes plays, he hopes his teammates will feed off his fire. And it's hard to imagine they wouldn't; even standing still, he appears spring-loaded.

It makes his self-control all the more striking.

Jones can be counted on to hold court with reporters every Friday. He speaks in sound bites so concise, you can imagine he measures them out every morning before coming to work.

Does nothing rattle him?

"Dirty play really pisses . . . it really gets me mad."

Jones is cautious to edit himself, to revise already innocuous language. It's the kind of maturity that raises eyebrows and threatens to make him an anomaly among his peers.

"I feel like whatever I say I'm viewed as, so I want to say what I say wisely," he explains. "I don't know if you've ever heard my brothers in press conferences. My brother Jon is very big on being well spoken and trying to be more positive about things than negative."

Jon is the middle of the three Jones brothers. He became the UFC's youngest world champion at age 24. Arthur, the oldest, is a defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Chandler cites both as his inspiration for professionalism.

He gives thanks for their lessons while sipping a protein shake from a straw.

The interview is happening in a six-by-six space between the double doors that open out from the Patriots locker room, and a second set of doors that open into the outer hall. A steady flow of traffic -- players, reporters -- moves through the space and pulls at Jones' attention. He must acknowledge the look from Aqib Talib, return a nod to Logan Ryan.

Every time the inner doors swing wide, threatening to pancake his interviewer, Jones kicks out a leg and takes the contact on his shoeless right foot.

"My problem is trying to do too much," he confesses. "Sometimes you get out there and you do your job, and then you try to do someone else's job, and then you get caught up. That's not how our defense works. And that's not being consistent. If you're doing your job, being in your place consistently every time, you should be fine."

Consistency is his biggest takeaway from the Year One to Year Two transition. That and humility.

"I really feel like no one likes a cocky player. No one likes a guy who's like, 'It's all about me.' If you're playing well enough, people are just going to realize you're a good player. I'm not going to sit here and say, 'I have this many sacks,' or, 'I've done this and that.' The biggest thing is just deflecting all praise. It'll come back to you."

That was not the case with this year's Pro Bowl.

Cam Jordan of the Saints has 12.5 sacks and 46 tackles. Buffalo's Mario Williams has 13 and 34. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake: 8.5 sacks and 35 tackles. Jones had a better statistical year than any of those three who are headed for Aloha Stadium.

More impressive is the fact this second-year Patriot played three positions at a high level. Jones not only worked as a defensive end in the 4-3, but dropped into coverage as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, and got pushed inside on some long-yardage situations.

Perhaps he didn't make the cut because he doesn't beat his chest. Jones was supposed to make that first-to-second year leap look effortless and he did. There's no other way to say it: The guy got snubbed.

Which is okay. Jones can work with it.

"If there's a frustrating moment or a kind of moment I'm uncomfortable in, I just go at it rather than shy away from it. I attack it -- not just my career but in every aspect of life."

Confidence is no issue, but there is a seesaw of idealism and realism teetering in his brain. The opposing beliefs don't jockey for position so much as take turns.

"When you set goals you have to be realistic. Some people might get a little crazy and try to set the bar too high. It kind of comes with knowing yourself, knowing what you can do, and knowing your limits. You don't want to get to crazy, but you want to have a goal that's going to set high standards."

So how does the perfectionist with slight OCD reconcile limitations?

"Playing for the Patriots, there are a lot of expectations. But even trying to be a perfectionist, trying . . . " Jones forgets his protein shake and focusing on finding an answer.

He hasn't figured that one out yet.

"Come back to that one."