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Heading into his third season, DE Chandler Jones not willing to call himself a veteran quite yet

05.21.14 at 8:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — Over the dozen years, there’s been a very clear pecking order when it comes to the Patriots defensive line.

More often than not, the position has been stocked with an intriguing combination of feisty youngsters in the nascent stages of their NFL careers and cagey vets who are on the back nine.

There have been a few exceptions — Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour were two defensive linemen who were part of the Patriots while in their late-20s, while Rob Ninkovich has played both linebacker and defensive linemen as a similarly aged twentysomething.

But for the most part, it’s been young guys, many of whom have been mentored by veterans. This season, that group includes Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Will Smith and Ninkovich among the vets, all of whom are 30 or older. Meanwhile, the youngsters include rookie Dominique Easley, as well as Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga, all of whom are heading into their second season.

One guy who is kind of caught in between is defensive end Chandler Jones. The 24-year-old Syracuse product is preparing for his third season in the NFL, and following a season where he finished with 11.5 sacks — fourth-most in team history — he figures to play a sizable role in New England’s defensive game plan in 2014.

After two full years in the system, he holds seniority on most of the defensive linemen. But right now, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jones wants no part of being a veteran, at least not yet.

“I wouldn’€™t call myself a vet yet. Not yet,” Jones said Tuesday during a break from offseason workouts at Gillette Stadium. “We still have Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and Will Smith. We still have a lot of vets on that defensive line. I’€™m still a young guy, I’€™d say.

“I always try to lead –€“ especially in drills. I try to lead from example. I’€™m not a huge vocal leader. That’€™s what the older guys are for, but I always try to do my best so the guys next to me or the guy behind me will say, ‘€˜Hey, he’€™s going 100 percent so let me go too.’€™”

Despite the fact that he shuns the veterans’ label, it doesn’t mean Jones is above offering advice to youngsters like first-round pick Easley.

“I just got done speaking with Easley — he’€™s doing good. He looks good,” Jones said. “He looks like a great player. I’€™ve been watching his highlights and I’€™ve been talking to him. I’€™m excited.

“It is early. The game is a lot different playing in the NCAA than the NFL. But I’€™ve definitely watched highlights and am very impressed with his game. Very impressed,” he added. “I saw he was getting a lot of penetration when I was watching his highlights, and that’€™s definitely a key in the offensive line.”

Here are a few more highlights of Jones’ Tuesday afternoon Q&A with the media:

On the offseason:

“It’€™s going good. It’€™s going good. I’€™m trying to focus on my lower body strength so it can help with my pass rush and my run stopping ability a little bit. It’€™s going good. It’€™s going well.”

What has impressed you about Will Smith?

“Well, being a defensive end, I feel like the thing you look at is their pass rush ability. That’€™s what you pay for and that’€™s one thing I like about him ‘€“ he’€™s a great pass rusher.”

Will adding depth help you stay fresher?

“You know what? it’€™s always good to have a lot of depth. You come in with higher numbers and you can get a better rotation. It is always good to have a lot of depth though.”

What do you think you need to do to take that next step in your career?

“Well, what I’€™ve been doing is just working on my lower body strength. I feel like if I can get my legs stronger and get it equal with my upper body, I feel like I will be more proportioned and it will help me with my game a lot.”

What sticks out to you about your rookie season that you might’€™ve done differently?

“Definitely film study. My rookie year, I feel like there was  lot of times where I was kind of just  getting by with my talent. And I feel like at this level of football, everyone is talented. I feel like you’€™ve got to study a lot of film. That’€™s my biggest advice to all of the rookies now. Just getting in the film room. You’€™re in the NFL so you’€™re talented, you’€™re talented enough to play at this level, but you have the mentality and the mental strength as well to play up here.”

Will veterans help pick up someone who isn’€™t working hard enough?

“We’€™re big on picking each other up. Everyone has their own limits. But I definitely feel like if you see a guy and he’€™s slacking a little bit or he’€™s just not caught up to the other guys, that’€™s when one of the veterans will step in. It’€™s always positive though. Always a positive enforcement. Never a put down. It’€™s a good thing we have.”

Did you watch video of the Denver game?

“Nope. Didn’€™t watch it.”

Advice for rookies who will step in right away and play?

“Just being level headed and being consistent every day ‘€“ every day in camp, every day in practice and in the eight room. Every day in the weight room. Being consistent and just getting the respect of the players around you and from the coaches so they will have enough confidence to put you out on the field.”

Read More: chandler jones, Dominique Easley, Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork
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