Looking at Chris Jones’ role within DC Robert Saleh’s 4-3 Under Scheme

Niners live discusses the importance of the 49ers retaining free agent Chris Jones and his rotational role in the 4-3 under scheme of Robert Saleh.


What we already know

The 49ers are in the early stages of rebuilding, rebranding, and changing the culture within the organization. It’s no secret they are in dire need of a change all the way around. Seeing as how the defense finished last in the league in both total defense and rush defense, the 49ers need to solidify their defense first if they plan on having any chance of being competitive. On the surface, one would think the addition of impact players is the answer to all the problems on defense. However, while adding impact players does help, it’s a process. As part of the process, in this year’s off-season and 2017 NFL draft, General Manager John Lynch stressed defense and stopping the run by adding veteran defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and rookies Solomon Thomas and D.J. Jones to the defensive line.

Football is the ultimate team sport and it takes a team of 53 players collectively dedicating themselves to the betterment of the team to achieve success. While adding big time talent to the first team defense is vital to a team in general and, in this case the defense, what’s just as important are those situational/rotational players that add both depth and value when the starters need a breather or, in worst cases, filling in for injured players. Depth is key for a team when trying to maximize production and maintain health. One of the more intriguing players with a positive upside that falls into the aforementioned situational/rotational category, is fifth-year defensive tackle, Chris Jones.

Why Chris Jones

Chris Jones may not be the fastest, strongest, or most physically imposing player on the roster, but he has proven to be one of the hardest working players on the roster. For six games in the 2016 season, Chris Jones was inserted into the starting lineup when defensive end Arik Armstead sustained an injury that sidelined him and sent him to the IR (injured reserve) list. During that span, Jones recorded 17 tackles (12 solo) in his limited snaps. Regardless of how much talent is on a roster, quality backups that can play quality snaps and provide a much-needed spark in relief minutes are just as valuable as impact players. It’s been said that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, and he is the epitome of such. That’s one of the traits that made him the only free agent signed from the 2016 team.

Thus far, in OTA’s he’s continued his diligent work ethic and production, receiving high praise from defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. As reported recently, both Jeff Zgonina and Robert Saleh had good things to say about the defensive tackle stating the following: “He’s a hard-working dude. He’s a high-energy guy. He gives you everything he has on every play, and that’s all I could ask for.”

“He’s one of the guys who stood out for me. I like guys who run to the ball, and he runs to the ball. He’s not the most gifted person, but he gives you everything he has.”

Saleh also had huge praise for Jones last week. Jones was a pleasant surprise in 2016 when he joined the team late in the year and quickly earned a starting job. He recorded 17 tackles in six games. Jones was one of the few free agents from the 2016 roster brought back this season.

“You can never have enough Chris Jones’ on your roster – guys who just stand for all the right things, work their tail off and who are actually effective at playing football,” Saleh said. “It was a very easy decision (to re-sign) Chris.” (via team website).

As previously discussed in 49ers: How DT Chris Jones fits in DC Robert Saleh’s 4-3 Scheme, Chris Jones was inserted into the starting lineup for defensive lineman Arik Armstead.

The reasonable expectations

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Chris Jones won’t be the player to take this defense over the top or make it better from day one, but he will indeed provide quality depth and play valuable snaps in rotation. His first step, his motor never stops, his aggressiveness and relentlessness allows him to be and stay productive when shooting gaps and getting good push on the defensive line. The transition to the 4-3 under will also help him, as well, seeing as how he, like many others, played out of position at nose tackle in the 3-4 the 49ers previously used. Chris Jones is a 4-3 defensive tackle by trait, and should shine in this new front playing where he thrives at either 2 or 3 tech (head up over the guard or on the outside shoulder of the guard) defensive tackle.

Those very attributes and solid production from a backup role are what will allow him to see a decent snap count and be able to contribute this season. Every team needs a key rotational player of this caliber on the roster. Not convinced of his value? Well, if not, maybe his 107 tackles and nine sacks in 41 total games are proof that he can be dominant and effective when he sees the field. He’s also very good at shedding blocks and beating double teams, as well. Whether short yardage, obvious early running downs, or goal line situations, it’s very comforting to know a player like Chris Jones can be included in the personnel groupings to sustain a stout defense and maintain production. Looking forward to seeing him making plays in the backfield and getting acquainted with opposing ball carriers in this new look for the 49ers defense. With the proper rotations, Robert Saleh should be able to have a capable group of 11 players on the field on any given snap. Great to have you back, Chris. Go Niners!

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Kevin Mitchell Staff Writer at Niners Live. Co-Author, Editor NinersLive.