He is expected to play a bigger role this season for the Chargers.
Justin Jones prepared for the opportunity by getting smaller.
Through a changed diet and an altered workout routine, the second-year defensive tackle has dropped nearly 20 pounds from when he first reported as a rookie.
Version 2.0 marks such a profound difference that Mike Pouncey said he thought Jones actually was larger.
“He looks like he put on a lot of weight, a lot of muscle,” the veteran center said. “He’s moving around faster. He understands the speed of the game now and that it’s different than college.”
Pouncey then offered this: “He’s a guy that is probably our most improved football player from Year One to Year Two. He’s out here making plays every day. If he can play like that the whole year, our defense is going to be really good.”
Jones, a third-round selection in 2018, steadily established himself over the length of his first NFL season.
He started the Chargers’ two playoff games and had his first solo sack in the team’s 23-17 wild-card victory at Baltimore.
Part of an interior group that, among others, includes veterans Brandon Mebane and Damion Square and 2019 first-round pick Jerry Tillery, Jones is someone the Chargers are counting on to produce even more.
“I think one day, he has the potential to be a Pro Bowl [selection],” Mebane said. “It has been really good to see the progress that he’s making from last year to this year.”
Jones said the progression began in January, his increased role in the playoffs providing confidence plus the motivation to work harder physically and increase his film study.
He said he noticed the game had slowed down for him by the time the postseason began. Catching up to the speed of the NFL allowed him to grow more comfortable in his assignments.
“I was like, ‘OK, now I know I can take that next step and become that player they know I can be,’ ” Jones said. “That was my goal this offseason, to become the player that they know I can be and I know I can be.”
He approached becoming a better football player by moving away from football training.
Instead, Jones tried boxing and swimming. He also rode a bike, his 6-foot-3, 300-pound frame not exactly typical for that sport.
The impetus for the decision came from a team meeting during which coach Anthony Lynn urged his players to explore other workouts.
“He said, ‘If you have a bike, go ride a bike,’ ” Jones recalled. “I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was in seventh or eighth grade, but I rode a bike.”
He said boxing allowed him to work on his endurance and hand speed. He never had boxed before, then spent six to eight weeks with the sport starting in the late winter.
“I have a whole new respect for boxers because I went a round-and-a-half to two rounds sparring and I about died,” Jones said. “They go 12 rounds. They make it look easy.”
Just as dramatic was how he tightened his eating habits. Jones explained that he eliminated beef and pork in favor of chicken, turkey and fish. This week, he even found himself extolling the virtues of burgers made from plants.
Working with a personal chef, he introduced more vegetables and usually had only fruit for breakfast.
Jones opened training camp at 295 pounds and said he might be closer to 290 now. When he joined the Chargers out of North Carolina State, he weighed 316. He was listed at 309 last season.
“It’s a big difference,” Jones said. “I feel great … and it’s showing up in my play. I’m really comfortable. I’ve learned the playbook, and I know what my job is. … I feel like I’m coming on really well.”
He credited the presence of learned teammates such as Mebane and Square for accelerating his progress. Pretty much daily during sessions with the media, the younger Chargers reference the help they’re receiving from the older Chargers.
“When I come to practice, I know I need to work just as hard or harder than Brandon Mebane because he got to where he’s at because of his hard work,” Jones said. “I want to be there.”
Based on what he has shown so far in training camp, Jones appears to be on his way.
The Chargers didn’t work on the field Monday. They will return to practice in Costa Mesa for what’s scheduled to be a two-hour session Tuesday. … The Chargers’ top players aren’t expected to play much, if at all, Thursday in the exhibition opener at Arizona. Same goes for Kyler Murray, the Cardinals’ rookie quarterback and the NFL’s No. 1 overall selection in April. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has suggested Murray could play as little as one series.