Posted: 5:40 p.m.
In a span of less than two weeks, Dhani Jones, who is throttling for his pilot's license, has become the face of the Bengals flying by the seat of his pants.
No one dreamed when the season started that Jones would be calling the defensive signals in the second half of Monday night's game against unbeaten New England. But then, no one thought the Bengals would disperse for the bye week at 1-3.
With linebacker reinforcements looking to join Jones next week in Kansas City, veterans such as tackle John Thornton and end Justin Smith hope the defense can get back to straight rushes and exotic blitzes.
"It was real emotional. Real emotional. I was put here for a reason," said Jones, who had just about seen and done it all in eight NFL seasons before Monday.
Even though he had undergone just seven practices and one game in the systems before entrusted with the calls, Jones had no sense of satisfaction.
"After awhile those numbers start to get larger and larger and there's no excuse behind it," Jones said. "I'd rather take the standpoint of I should have known more, I should have been able to make more calls, and I should have been able to do a better job and we should have been able to pull out the game regardless of the situation."
Although Jones understandably put the Bengals in a couple of wrong defenses, Thornton thought he gave them a lift when he was the lone healthy linebacker standing after Lemar Marshall was lost for the season, Landon Johnson temporarily lost use of one eye, and Anthony Schlegel pitched a losing battle with turf toe.
"He wants to be that guy," Thornton said of Jones. "It's a good week for him. He gets to practice doing it with us. Hey, it's good for us to have one healthy linebacker in there. We'll get some guys back, but it makes it difficult to be real exotic on defense. I still like blitzing. In this league, the receivers are good, the quarterbacks and running backs are good and if they know whose coming it's hard to get to them."
Johnson is expected back for the Oct. 14 game in Kansas City, as is middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks, his backup Caleb Miller, and strong-sider Rashad Jeanty in his season debut. Thornton is encouraged and thinks Jones' experience and personality "will do well for us."
"You've got two of the best receivers in the league. A tight end, a running back, guys that are coming back," Jones said. "We've got Deltha O'Neal, come on. We've got a starting corner in Leon (Hall) that is playing out of his mind. He's going to give up something, of course, because he's young but at the same time he's learning and he can do an incredible job. And we're going to get healthy people back at the linebacker position that have been in the position before and know exactly what's going on out there and we can bond together as a cohesive unit and go win games.
"Everybody knows what Chad can do to a defense, what T.J. can do to a defense, what Carson can do to a defense, and we get Rudi (Johnson) back healthy."
Jones has "NFL Network Reporter" on his varied resume, so naturally he was asked about the national media's take of crumbling team chemistry in the wake of the Carson-Chad implosion.
"If the national media were in the locker room every day, they'd understand the type of team we have," Jones said. "Bring Jaws (ESPN's Ron Jaworski) to practice every day. He'll see the tempo. He'll see the potential we have. I know that (it is a team on the rise). A few things here and there. That's all it takes. All it takes."
Jones, a devout traveler who has journeyed to China, Cuba and Iceland, says picking up a new defense is more complicated than learning a new language. After that's done, he says, then you have to figure out who makes what kind of plays in what defenses so he can figure where and when to cheat.
Who are the guys making the big hits on fourth-and-two, and the guys making the plays on second-and-five is pretty much how he puts it, and while Jones has the career stats of a grinder (four sacks, four interceptions, three forced fumbles) he also warns, "I'll make some plays for you, too."
"But while I'm trying to find my way through, I'm grinding," he said. "As soon as I find out, OK, a toss, or inside, or I've got safety help or I've got linebacker help, and I know I can back door and shoot the gap and play a little bit more to this side, there's the play. Put a linebacker in position, he knows where the ball is but he's got to know where his people are around him, because he knows how critical it is for him to make sure he takes care of his gap."
Smith knows how important that is because the line usually gets the blame when the linebackers are in the wrong fit or take a bad angle. Note New England running back Sammy Morris' 49-yard run that turned a 3-0 game into 10-0.
(Jones) is vocal out there and if you've got quiet linebackers you're in trouble," Smith said. "They set the defense, they call the signals, and none of this is going to matter if we don't stop the run. That has to be the focus. If its second-and-short and third-and-short, we're in trouble and you've got to figure that's all Kansas City is going to do to us. It's their strength and it's been a weakness for us."
Smith, one of the Bengals' top career sackers, doesn't have one yet, indicating that the down-and-distance hasn't been all that conducive. He felt the refs cost him one on a batted a ball Monday night, but he was encouraged by the amount of pressure the defensive line got on Tom Brady.
"Predominantly we rushed straight and that's the most pressure we've garnered in a game," Smith said. "Hopefully in the next 12 games we'll rush straight, keep creating pressure, because we've got him moving around in the pocket. But if we're going to get it in gear, we have to stop the run first."
Which is where Jones and the backers come in. He has put all his outside endeavors on hold as he grapples with the playbook. Meaning he won't be making any Five Star Bow Ties I (his self-made company), conducting the Pops (which he did in Philadelphia), or logging some more training miles in the air.
"Football has given me the opportunity to do other things and now is the time to devote myself to that," said Jones, heading to the San Diego beach where the Bengals found him just two weeks ago.