Datone Jones joins Packers' group of 'elephants'

Datone Jones had three sacks last season for the Packers. Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers want Datone Jones to do what Mike Neal, Julius Peppers and Nick Perry do on defense.

That means the former first-round pick is no longer just a defensive end. In an expanded role, the Packers want Jones to rush the quarterback from various spots on the defensive front, including outside linebacker. It’s what coach Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers call their "elephant" position.

They experimented with it midway through last season and liked what they saw so much from Jones in that role they plan to play him in a variety of positions this season. Don’t be surprised if, when you see the first OTA practices of the spring, Jones is working with the outside linebackers.

"I like what he did out there," McCarthy said this week at the NFL annual meetings.

It could mean Jones will have to shed a few pounds from his 6-foot-4 frame. As a defensive end, the Packers listed him at 285 pounds. Peppers is listed at 287, but he’s three inches taller than Jones. Perry (265 pounds) and Neal (262) are considerably lighter.

"He finished out [last season] where he needs to be," McCarthy said of Jones. "I think what you saw at the end of the year is where he needs to come back at. It’s more on his body type, it’s more on his movement ability, his body index. So yeah, he comes back in the shape he left in, he’ll be about where he needs to be."

Jones’ move also could be an indication the Packers don’t plan to re-sign Neal, who has reportedly taken free-agent visits to Seattle and Detroit.

It’s a critical season for the Packers’ 2013 first-round draft pick. The Packers have to decide by mid-May whether to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. If they don’t, Jones will be playing for a contract in 2017.

Jones has never been a full-time player despite appearing in all but four games in his first three seasons. He’s never recorded more than 3.5 sacks in a season.

McCarthy is looking for more production from the pass rush, even though the Packers finished tied for seventh in the NFL with 43 sacks last season. That’s part of the reason Clay Matthews is moving back to outside linebacker.

"You want as many different combinations as possible,” McCarthy said. “It’s creating matchup and targeting issues, too. The rush pattern and the rush rotation for the last year was probably our best year in my time here. We’ll see how it shakes out once the season hits, but it’s something I know, from an offensive perspective, that creates a lot of problems.

"And the thing you’ve got to worry about with multiplicity is, you start rolling all these different guys, you’ve got to make sure, particularly in the movement scheme, the stunt game and things like that, you spend enough time with certain guys working together, because there is a lot of timing that goes along with that technique, too. So we’ve just got to watch that we don’t get too cute and just stick to the way we’ve been going about [things]. So how it shakes out and who’s going with who and so forth, that’s really for the season."