Jones molds Seahawks’ defensive line into dominant unit

Special to The TelegraphJanuary 31, 2014 

NEWARK, N.J. -- When the Seattle Seahawks signed defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in free agency before this season, the team was adding two standout players to a unit that already boasted Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane.

A defensive line that already was so solid had been transformed into one of the best in the league, which was great for defensive line coach Travis Jones. But it also presented its challenges for the former Georgia player.

“You have a roomful of guys, many who started in different places, and they have to come together and basically split time,” Jones said. “It was difficult to start with for the guys to grasp. Take Cliff Avril and Bennett. Both of those guys started and played almost every play for their respective clubs. They come here, and at times, (their playing time) was cut down. As a competitor, you say, ‘Whoa.’ ”

Jones could reflect on his coaching attributes Tuesday while talking to reporters during Super Bowl Media Day. When Jones was completing his eligibility at Georgia in 1994, this scene -- superheroes roamed around a hockey rink asking silly questions to pro football players while a man dressed like Mozart held a microphone -- probably wasn’t what he imagined his future to be.

Perhaps when he was enduring the Bountygate controversy with the New Orleans Saints two years ago or pleading guilty to a fraud charge that left him suspended by the NFL for 30 days, Jones wasn’t sure he would be in the position to answer so many positive questions about the men he coached.

But first, he had a correction to make. He wasn’t from Milledgeville, he corrected a reporter with a smile. He was born in Milledgeville. But he’s from Irwinton. That seems important to the former Wilkinson County standout.

“All of this has been a blessing,” Jones said when asked about his journey from Irwinton (not Milledgeville) to Super Bowl XLVIII. “I knew if I didn’t get a chance to play in the NFL, I was definitely going to get into coaching at some level. I dreamed of coaching in the NFL, but I never knew that it would be a reality.”

After graduating from Georgia, he spent a season in the Canadian Football League and another in the Arena Football League before moving into the coaching ranks. After stops at Appalachian State and Kansas, Nick Saban hired him at LSU, where the Tigers won the 2003 national title. From there, Jones went with Saban to the Miami Dolphins, and while Saban left after the 2006 season to return to the college ranks, Jones stayed put in the pros.

He always wanted to coach in the NFL, and that’s where he would stay and meet an important figure in his life named Dan Quinn.

“We were there two years together,” said Quinn, the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator who hired Jones to coach the defensive line before this season. “You could feel his energy on the practice field. With the defensive line, you need that. I knew he was a really good teacher. He’s a teacher in the grass, and a lot of times, you can tell how good a assistant coach is out on the practice field.”

Quinn apparently was impressed enough to hire Jones from New Orleans, where he had spent the past five years as an assistant defensive line coach and where he reached the ultimate high (a Super Bowl XLIV victory) and the ultimate low (the Bountygate controversy that cost defensive coordinator Gregg Williams his job and reputation and led to a year-long suspension for head coach Sean Payton).

Jones’ personal nadir, however, occurred in 2010 when he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge to commit mail fraud. He avoided jail time, but he must have been worried that his coaching career would stall. New Orleans, however, kept him on staff, and after Quinn took over as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, he placed a call to Jones.

“Like anybody else, people have bumps and trials and tribulations,” Jones said. “That obviously is way behind me and in the past. I’ve had a tremendous coaching career. It’s been a storybook.”

With a win over quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the man from Irwinton will add another chapter to a career in which he says he wouldn’t change a thing.

“Every team in this league has personnel, but he gets results with his personnel, and he gets the most out of what they do,” Broncos offensive line coach Dave Magazu said. “He takes advantage of what his guys do well and puts them in a position to have success. It really doesn’t matter what position you coach, you have to be a little bit of a people manager. Along with that, you have to be a Dr. Phil. Obviously, he’s done a great job, because they play well as a unit. They’re where they’re supposed to be, going 110 miles an hour. You can say he’s got great personnel, but he’s done a great job of taking advantage of his personnel.”

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