D.J. Jones was well on his way to a breakout season in Year 3 with the San Francisco 49ers. In 11 games in 2019, he posted 23 tackles, four for loss, 2.0 sacks and added a forced fumble in the 49ers narrow victory over the New Orleans Saints, all career-highs. In what was regarded as one of the toughest stretches of the season, the 49ers experienced a huge blow to their defense losing Jones for the year after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in that Week 14 win in New Orleans.
Jones admitted that although watching from the sidelines during the 49ers postseason run was a tough pill to swallow, it only sparked him to put his nose to the grindstone this offseason, especially after establishing himself as a key piece of the 49ers defense.
"It was very, very disappointing for me," Jones said of his shortened season. "I felt like I was on the rise. I felt like there was a lot more out there for me. I felt like I could have helped my team along the way. But at the same time, God makes no mistakes. There's nothing I can do about the past except for work hard for the future."
As the 49ers anticipate the re-opening of team facilities, Jones, who is working out in his hometown in South Carolina, revealed that his ankle is "100 percent." Foregoing any offseason surgeries, he added that he is fully capable of making cuts on his runs now five months removed from the injury.
While he excelled as a run-stopper last season (i.e. back-to-back goal line stands against the Los Angeles Rams last season), the nose tackle is focusing on improving another dimension of his game: adding more stats into the sack column. In addition to his rehab, he's working to become a three-down player for San Francisco in 2020.
"I'm just simulating rushing the passer," Jones said of his offseason training. "I'm so used to run blocking and standing the guy up and looking for the ball to come to me. But with pass rush, you've got to go get the quarterback. I've never really been a third down guy, but I can be that guy and that's what I'm working on now.
"As long as I keep moving my feet, as my defensive line coach (Kris Kocurek) continues to tell me to work on, I can get to the quarterback."
Jones could see his workload increase with the departures of key contributors along the defensive line. With the addition of rookie Javon Kinlaw, who Jones admitted to being "excited" to play alongside, the fourth-year defensive lineman is confident the 49ers can continue churning in 2020. San Francisco's pair of stout interior D-linemen in conjunction with the number of returners and a clean bill of health aids as motivation for Jones and Co. at a repeat opportunity to chase a Lombardi Trophy.
"It was more motivating than disappointing because I wasn't able to play," Jones said. "Just to see my brothers out there fighting - just to see that we had an opportunity to win is motivation to me that we can get back to that game. So, I'm just working right now, just like I know the rest of my teammates are, to get back.
"Eventually it's all going to show, and we'll finish next time."