Stop the Chargering: Donnie Jones brings calmness to kicking game

Since Donnie Jones (5) has taken over as the team's holder, the Chargers have made 83.3 percent of their field goal attempts. Martin Leitch/Icon Sportswire

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Los Angeles Chargers punter/holder Donnie Jones heard the enthusiastic "Donnie" chants: on the field, in the locker room and even during team-building exercises on the road in Cleveland while the Bolts prepared for their London game against the Tennessee Titans last week.

"It's all the time," Jones said laughing. "I called my wife after the first day of practice and told her, 'I've never had a team chant my name after a field goal period,' and she kind of started laughing.

"Hell, I guess they kind of like me."

The Chargers should. After all, the addition of the 15-year NFL veteran in early October has helped stabilize a shaky special teams unit. Up until they signed Jones, the Chargers had the NFL's worst extra point and field goal percentage since the start of the 2017 season, making 69 percent of their field goals and 83.3 percent of their extra points. The Chargers have used six different kickers during that time frame.

And now they've changed holders as way of keeping the Chargers from Chargering.

Quarterback Philip Rivers said the constant chanting is a way of welcoming Jones to the team.

"He reminds me a lot of when [former punter] Mike [Scifres] was here as the punter and the holder," Rivers said. "He was the general of that group as a veteran. He is coming from a team that won the Super Bowl.

"He is [even-keeled]. The guys have kind of welcomed him in and had a good time with the 'Donnie' chants and things like that. It's been good."

So far, the warm welcome for Jones, 38, has paid off.

It's a small sample size, but since Jones has taken over as the team's punter and holder, the Chargers have made 83.3 percent of their field goal attempts (5 of 6) and 90 percent of their extra point attempts (9 of 10) over three games.

Players and coaches say that Jones has brought a sense of calmness to the special teams unit and the team as a whole.

"Donnie is a young man who has 15 years in the league," Chargers special teams coordinator George Stewart said. "He got some hardware and won a Super Bowl last year, and now he has a chance to bring some calmness to Caleb [Sturgis]."

One of the reasons the Chargers signed Jones is he had a history with kicker Caleb Sturgis. The two were teammates for three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, where Jones served as the holder for Sturgis.

"I feel like my best years were definitely with Donnie," Sturgis said. "I feel like he's one of the best in the league at it, so I'm excited to work with him again."

A seventh-round selection by the Seattle Seahawks in 2004, Jones lost a training camp battle during his rookie season and was put on the practice squad. He bounced between the main team and the practice squad all season but learned some valuable lessons.

"The guy they brought in to replace me was Ken Walter," Jones said. "Ken had held for Adam Vinatieri I think for two of his Super Bowls. So the rest of that year Ken took time out of his day to help me hold, and to teach me how to hold. And to this day I'm forever grateful because if it hadn't been for that, I probably never would have learned the skill.

"I continued to practice and get better. I went to Miami the next year in 2005 and held for Olindo Mare, and have been holding ever since. ... I remember being a rookie and being told, 'Hey we didn't draft you to hold, we just want you to punt and come in and be consistent. You're our guy.' We'll, I think I ended up getting released because I wasn't a great holder. Again, I think it's a skill that gets overlooked a lot until something really bad happens."

While Jones has been a steadying influence as a holder, he still knows that he has room for improvement for his main duty as the Chargers' punter.

Jones' 41.1 yards per punt is 28th in the league and his net punting average of 36.3 per punt is No. 23 in the NFL.

However, Jones has not had a punt blocked and has six punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

"There's no doubt I'll get back to the form -- it just takes a little bit of time and reps," he said. "But throughout my career, there's never really any perfect seasons, and I strive for perfection."

Jones had been working as a substitute teacher back home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at St. George Catholic School -- where his son Weston and daughter Addison attend -- before he got the call from the Chargers.

"The teacher told me that she wanted me to read a story, and I didn't know how to pronounce some of these words," Jones joked. "So when the next class came in, I told them, 'All right, I'm going to call your name on the list, and you're going to read until I tell you to stop.'

"In this game you sacrifice a lot to play it, and a lot of times that means spending time away from your family. So to get to volunteer and be around the school, to not only be around my kids but help give back to a school that has done a lot for us, that was good."

Jones, who also attended St. George in his younger years, said the school had a pep rally in anticipation of the Eagles playing in the Super Bowl last season. Jones said he sees similarities to the Super Bowl-winning Eagles and this year's Chargers, who at 5-2 are riding a four-game winning streak.

"This is a great football team, and I'm excited to be part of it," Jones said. "Being part of a championship team last season I see lot of those qualities we had with this group. So I'm excited about where we are at. Nothing's guaranteed, but I feel excited about the opportunity we have here."