GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The whole encounter may not have lasted more than a few seconds, but it stuck in Mike McCarthy’s mind ever since he heard the name Josh Jones for the first time.
It was last fall when the Green Bay Packers coach talked to the team’s director of player personnel, and for some reason the topic turned to a certain defensive back at N.C State.
“I remember seeing Josh Jones playing back in November, and Brian Guntekunst saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to take a look at this guy,’” McCarthy recalled recently during an interview on ESPN Milwaukee. “So he was a favorite player of mine in the draft class long before we even went to the combine.”
That’s one reason to keep an eye on Jones this week, when organized team activities begin. Another is the question about where the second-round pick will play. Everywhere you look -- on N.C. State’s roster, at the NFL combine workouts and even now on the Packers’ roster -- Jones is listed as a safety. But the Packers don’t plan to be so limiting in their use of the 6-foot-2, 220-pound rookie.
When they picked Jones at No. 61 overall, the Packers immediately began talking about his versatility and the image of a hybrid defensive back/linebacker came to mind.
“He’s a very good tackler in space and in the box,” said Guntekunst, the Packers’ director of player personnel, shortly after Green Bay picked Jones. “He’s one of those guys at N.C. State you’ll see they drop him in there, kind of play a linebacker and he’ll shoot the gap and take on the big guys inside and has no problem doing that. And when he’s back in the back end and he’s got to get the speed guys, he has no problem with that either. So, I think with Josh, versatility is just the exciting thing for us, the ability that he can do so many things.”
It’s a role the Packers first experimented last year with safety Morgan Burnett, who at times lined up in place of an inside linebacker in the nickel package. It’s not only become a trend in the NFL to move a safety into a linebacker role but also a necessity for teams that need to get faster on defense, and the Packers certainly qualify as one of those.
Jones showed off his speed at the combine, where he ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, the second-fastest time among safeties who ran in Indianapolis.
That’s why the selection of Jones could be one of the most important acquisitions the Packers made this offseason, even if safety wasn’t considered one of the primary needs thanks to the return of Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who made his first Pro Bowl last season. The Packers lost versatile defensive back Micah Hyde to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, and they also did not draft an inside linebacker to compete with returners Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas.
“However they want to use me, I’ll be used,” Jones said. “I’m a very versatile safety. I can do a lot of things for a defense. This is all about taking coaching and doing what they tell you to do.”
Expect to see Jones doing at least some position work with the linebackers at the first open OTA practice on Tuesday. He took some linebacker reps during rookie camp earlier this month.
“That was my first time doing linebacker drills,” Jones said. “I was pretty much everywhere -- doing linebacker things, lining up at safety. It was fun.
“In college I played everywhere. I kind of knew that whatever team that drafted me has some packages for me. I was pretty fortunate to get drafted by the Packers and this defense will allow me to show my abilities.”