RENTON, Wash. (AP) — Before the start of training camp, Nazair Jones was the “other” rookie defensive lineman taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL draft.
All the attention was on Malik McDowell, the second-round pick with first-round talent that Seattle felt was a steal as the No. 35 overall selection. Jones was a bit of an afterthought, someone who could provide depth but may not make the same rookie impact as McDowell.
Circumstances created a situation where Jones was given his chance to shine. And the third-round pick has been one of Seattle’s preseason standouts heading into the final exhibition game Thursday night against Oakland.
With McDowell sidelined on the non-football injury list after suffering facial injuries in an ATV accident before the start of training camp, Jones got a bump on the depth chart and has taken advantage of his opportunities.
“He has been so comfortable in taking to the challenge of the aggressive way we want to play,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Jones has been a primary option during the preseason in Seattle’s defensive tackle rotation that includes veteran Ahtyba Rubin, Jarran Reed and, in passing situations, Michael Bennett lined up on the interior. In the third preseason game against Kansas City, Jones played 29 snaps, the most of any defensive tackle.
Jones’ profile is a bit out of the ordinary for a strong, run-stuffing defensive tackle. He has a long, lanky frame at 6-foot-5, but has the strength to hold up interior offensive linemen when it comes to stopping the run.
“It’s really a downside when you get these guards and it’s time to play the run and you have to keep your pads low,” Jones said. “So being 6-5 with long legs it’s hard to do. So you have to be extra mindful of that.”
Just the fact that Jones is on the field is remarkable in itself.
Jones suffered from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) as a teenager, a rare disorder of the nervous system that — as the name suggests — causes unexplained pain in areas of the body. It’s a rare disorder with fewer than 200,000 cases diagnosed in the U.S.
Jones was stricken early in high school. He lost 40 pounds and went through periods when he was essentially paralyzed. He was forced to learn to walk again and it wasn’t until his freshman season at North Carolina that he started to feel normal again.
“It was just all the effects that it had on me afterward,” Jones said after being drafted. “So I was still a little stiff, I had a little gimpy walk. I was just fighting that, trying to get back to my normal self because I was out of commission, I had to relearn how to walk. Just trying to get back into the groove of things.”
With that history, it’s no surprise Jones has tremendous appreciation for the opportunity he’s earned with the Seahawks and his chance to see significant playing time as a rookie.
“It definitely crosses my mind when the alarm goes off and I’m going to work that I get to go play football today in the NFL, it hits me then,” Jones said. “But I try not to think about it too much. I just got to come out here and earn my check.”
NOTES: Carroll said RB Thomas Rawls and RB C.J. Prosise can play Thursday but did not say either will play. Each has been sidelined by minor injuries the last couple of weeks. … Mark Glowinski will start at right guard in the final preseason game. He’s split time there with veteran Oday Aboushi during the preseason.
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