FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Keep a close eye on Deion Jones on Thursday night.
The Atlanta Falcons' rookie middle linebacker, a second-round draft pick from LSU, might get the start in preseason game No. 2 against the Cleveland Browns. And if he doesn't start, Jones is sure to get plenty of action while alternating series with Paul Worrilow.
What is Jones expecting? A better showing than last week's stellar debut against the Washington Redskins.
"I've still got a lot of room for improvement," Jones said. "I've got a lot of work to do on special teams, and paying attention to all the details on defense."
On the surface, it appeared Jones performed rather well last week. He led the team with five tackles, including one for a loss, and had a pass defensed while playing 31 snaps. That was third-most on the defense behind safety Robenson Therezie (33) and nickel back Brian Poole (31). Jones also played 13 snaps on special teams and was part of the blocking on undrafted rookie McKissic's 101-yard kickoff-return touchdown.
"I've still gotta be perfect," Jones said. "There's always room to get better."
Jones was drafted to bring more speed to the defense. He immediately began competition with Worrilow, the team's leading tackler the last three seasons. The fact that Worrilow spent a lot of time on special teams leading up to Thursday's game might have been an indication of Jones starting against the Browns. Both he and fellow rookie inside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell spent a portion of this week preparing with the first-team defense.
The coaches know Jones has the talent to start immediately. Now he has to show the mental capacity to pick up all the intricacies of playing middle linebacker.
"One of the things it involves is having that voice and having the ability to make the calls, make the checks," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "He's the one for us on the field that has to kind of direct the traffic. I've seen a real improvement with that. He went through the first four days, hit a little lull, and then, `Man, there was a lot in.' And then once we said, `OK, in the game, these are going to be the few things that we'll play,' it ramped right back up again.
"I see that spike going up again this week. The communication is better. He's had more reps at it. He's more familiar with his guys, too. We want to encourage him, `Hey man, this is your group to take control of when you're on the field, whoever the Mike linebacker is. Call it and run it.' And he's done that."