NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans defensive lineman DaQuan Jones will be among millions across the country showing appreciation to their fathers today.
The gratitude is for the daily inspiration the rookie defensive lineman draws from the love and leadership he saw from Steve Jones.
Jones experienced difficult situations growing up, but those troubles eased when he went to live with his father at 16. Steve Jones has been a chef at Cornell University since the early 2000s and instilled lessons that helped DaQuan in his time at Penn State and adjust quickly to the NFL.
The Titans used their first of two fourth-round selections on Penn State DT DaQuan Jones. (AP Photos)
"To see how he came through stuff in life and really persevered really just motivates me," Jones said. "Everything else in my life motivates me as well, but seeing how he works … I really admire that and try to do that here at the Tennessee Titans."
Selected by the Titans in the fourth round, Jones has progressed through the team's offseason workout program that included 10 organized team activity practices over the past three weeks. He will participate in Tennessee's mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday.
"It was just a great experience to go out there and really work with these guys and really get to know these guys better as a person," Jones said. "To see who everyone really is was awesome, and I enjoyed the experience."
The second of those three weeks was particularly special for Jones because his father and uncle visited Nashville for the first time. Jones was able to enjoy his favorite of his father's recipes: chicken parmesan.
"It's definitely a good thing to have him around," Jones said. "He got to hang out and see Nashville and really get to know it."
Titans defensive line coach Giff Smith said Jones has made a good impression with coaches, and the influence that Steve has had on DaQuan's life is apparent.
"That's been his rock and somebody he can lean on," Smith said. "Like I told him, 'You're so lucky that you've got someone who cares about you. There's a lot of kids throughout this country that don't have anybody. You've got someone who actually cares about you and if you're handling your business the right way, so feel blessed,' and I think he does. I told him, 'When you get a chance to be a parent, be there for your kids because that's the future.' "
Jones said he has been pleased and maybe a little surprised with how helpful veterans have been during practices.
"Some veterans don't want to tell you anything because they're competing for their job. Not everyone on the defensive line is going to make it, and I know that, but it really opened my eyes to see in the first couple of days that Antonio Johnson and Sammie (Hill) really started helping me out on my technique and hand placement," Jones said. "It really opened my eyes that guys wanted me to be better and want everyone to be at their best just to be able to compete. When you beat someone out just because they don't know something, it really is not a good feeling for you personally is what I'm saying. I feel like we're helping each other out so everyone can be at their best to beat that person and bring a different edge to the defensive line."
Smith said the extension of help from veterans isn't always guaranteed but can be an indicator that the younger player is earning respect from teammates by demonstrating good work ethic and a passion for the game.
"The biggest thing you can tell as a coach is when the veterans start helping him," Smith said. "That means that he's fit in right and handles himself the right way, he asks hard questions, he leans on the veterans for some understanding, too, so I think he's progressing at a nice pace for us and we're excited about him."
Smith said the original plan the Titans had for Jones, who is capable of playing defensive tackle or end in Ray Horton's 3-4 "hybrid" scheme, has been accelerated by Jones' willingness to spend extra time to pick up the system faster and by how rare the mistakes have been.
"He's played all the positions for us and handled himself well, so he's a guy you can challenge more and more, and we're going to continue to put him in situations and see if he's going to be in position to help us this year," Smith said.
That could mean going beyond the traditional thought of a run-stuffer that is often relegated to a player of his size. Jones said he's at 330, but the weight is well-distributed across his 6-foot-4 frame.
"I feel comfortable," he said. "I don't feel like I'm sluggish, I don't feel like I'm slow or anything. I'm moving fine, I feel quick."
Smith said Jones could give the coaching staff an opportunity to develop and capitalize on his pass-rush ability, and Jones said he likes the faith that Smith is showing in that aspect of his game.
"I like it because he believes in my pass-rush ability and everyone else didn't," Jones said. "Everyone else said I could not rush the quarterback. Without having to do 80 plays in practice and only doing a couple of handfuls, I can show I can get after the quarterback and have the potential to be an elite pass rusher in the league."
Earlier this offseason, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt noted a play Jones made to break up a screen pass, but said the most complete assessment of Jones' abilities will begin when training camp opens next month and players wear pads for full-contact practices.
"It's always hard when you talk about that position, from the standpoint of what we're limited to right now with not being able to put pads on," Whisenhunt said Thursday. "I like the way he works. He does a great job with everything that we're asking him to do. If you go down and watch him do some of the individual work on (tackling dummies), it's impressive, but the big thing is translating that to pads and being able to do it in game situations and even practice situations, so he's working hard. (He) doesn't say a whole lot. He's a professional. He goes about his business and you respect that. I'm excited to see what he can do we get the pads on."