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Some Commanders don’t know his name. But Andre Jones Jr. is making a push.


OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Deep in the red zone, the Washington Commanders’ defense rocked and jostled before the snap, yelling out tips and preparing to fire out of their stances. It was the usual group, stars on the line and stalwarts in the backfield, except for one spot. At right end was a new face shielded by a face mask, a jersey nameplate covered by dreadlocks, the most identifiable feature his unusual number: 48.

After the snap, No. 48 used his long arms to get into the Baltimore Ravens’ tackle and drive him back into the pocket. No. 48 let his linemates make moves to take a shot at quarterback Lamar Jackson, and No. 48 stayed in his lane, doing his job. But when Jackson tucked the ball and stepped up to run, No. 48 shed his blocker and put himself in position to make the tackle. If it had been a real game, not joint practices in mid-August, No. 48 might’ve laid out the former MVP quarterback.

For now, in terms of renown, “No. 48” might be an upgrade for Andre Jones Jr., the seventh-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette. After practice, when asked if he’d faced Jones in intra-team drills, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said, “Who?”

“I don’t know,” Leno said. “If I did, I don’t remember.”

The moment was a perfect encapsulation: Jones has promise and a long way to go. In fact, he wasn’t even the first defensive end Washington drafted this year. The team selected Clemson’s K.J. Henry in the fifth round, 96 picks before it took Jones at No. 233. But Jones’s speed and length have regularly stood out among the reserves. He played well in the preseason opener, registering a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss, and he could push more well-known ends for a rotational spot, particularly in pass-rushing situations. He’s earned a few first-team reps opposite Montez Sweat in the absence of Chase Young, in relief of Efe Obada and sometimes ahead of Henry, Casey Toohill and James Smith-Williams.

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“Wow, he’s a dynamic young man,” Coach Ron Rivera said after practice Wednesday. “He’s got some explosion off the edge. He’s got a lot to learn in terms of technique and the scheme itself, but his talent and his abilities did flash, did show. So he’s a guy that we got to pay a little extra attention to this week.”

In April, as Day 3 of the NFL Draft dragged on, Jones needed a few minutes alone and left a party of about 15 people to sit in his truck. The 24-year-old stayed there, watching his iPad and waiting … and waiting … and waiting.

Scouts didn’t love him; called Jones, a 6-foot-4, 248-pound prospect, “a bit undeveloped.” He pulled his hamstring at the combine, which meant he couldn’t run there or at his college pro day. It was a gap in the résumé for a prospect who hadn’t produced many sacks until a modest breakout in his sixth season (7.5 in 2022).

But finally, with the draft nearly over, Jones heard his name.

“It’s so many emotions that I have going on right now,” he said afterward. “I don’t know if I want to take off running and run through the street or something. I’m just happy right now.”

In minicamp, Jones’s spring off the line of scrimmage popped. During one drill, Young noticed Jones’s speed and joked to defensive tackle Daron Payne: “He on your a–!” In the first week of training camp, Jones hit a spin move against tackle Cornelius Lucas that gave him a clear lane to the backfield.

Slowly, Jones gained more important reps. He heated up on one of the team’s toughest position battles, defensive end, where there seem to be five players (Jones, Henry, Obada, Toohill and Smith-Williams) competing for three or four rotational spots. Jones has 34¼-inch arms, comfortably the longest of the five, and he predicates his pass-rushing on long-arm moves.

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“You got to really emphasize that length because God gave me this, and I got to just put it to work,” Jones said. “And for my length, I’m fast. I’m really fast. Not like average. Like, I’m fast.”

When did you know you were fast?

“[I’ve known] I had it,” he said. “I don’t like to dwell on the past. Like in the spring, I really didn’t get to show my speed. They saw flashes on tape of my speed in college, but I ain’t get to show it because things happen [like the hamstring strain]. … But I’m really fast. I am.” He paused. “I forgot the question.”

When did you know you were fast?

He grinned like a proud kid. “I [haven’t] just realized it,” he said. “I know I’m fast. I know it.”

After practice, Jones took off his jersey. He was no longer No. 48. He was a smiling face and an excited voice and a long, muscular body that he considered “a blessing and a curse” because his length makes it harder to stay low while he rushes. And there, on his left biceps was a tattoo that summed it up: “Dream Chaser.”

POST AUTHOR: Sam Fortier

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