MINNEAPOLIS -- The last time Datone Jones played in a 4-3 defense was in his junior year at UCLA, where he was an edge rusher and occasional defensive tackle for Rick Neuheisel's final team at the school. His senior year was spent mostly in a 3-4 for Jim Mora, and the Green Bay Packers drafted him to play in that scheme, first as a defensive end and then as a linebacker.
So while Jones could move around in his return to a 4-3 with the Minnesota Vikings, there might be one position on the defensive line where he could offer the most obvious help.
The Vikings' situation at three-technique tackle is in flux. Sharrif Floyd, whose $6.757 million option was guaranteed for injury only until the start of the league year, is still working his way back from a knee surgery that was initially described as a cleanup when he had it last September.
Tom Johnson, who has been at his best as an interior pass-rusher in the nickel package, was pressed into service more often with Floyd missing 15 games last season, and Shamar Stephen's production dipped as he was asked to play more than usual. The Vikings can hope for more from Floyd in a make-or-break year, but his health is precarious enough that they can't be blamed for covering their bases.
That's where Jones could come in. At 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, he's got enough size to play inside, and he's enough of a physical specimen for the Vikings to think he can get off the ball quickly and be disruptive in the middle of the line. Jones cited Andre Patterson -- the Vikings' defensive line coach who has coaxed major improvements out of Johnson, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph -- as one of the draws to signing with the Vikings, and it's possible the former first-round pick will be the next player Patterson can push to a higher level. It's probably premature to expect Jones can solve the position, but he provides another option that can help at three-technique tackle as well as defensive end.
The position could be a stage for competition this spring, as Jones plays on a one-year deal that he said gives him an opportunity "to actually prove myself" and Floyd gets what figures to be his last shot to shake his injuries and stick with the Vikings. The two players, selected by division rivals within three picks of one another in 2013, will need impressive seasons to craft their NFL futures. And after a season of waiting for Floyd, the Vikings could entertain the idea of another former first-rounder contributing at the position.