FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Deion Jones' ascent as the Falcons' starting middle linebacker has been enjoyable to watch, and it may not be anywhere close to finished.
Now entering his third NFL season, Jones, 23, is beginning to take a more refined approach to his offseason preparation. Speaking Tuesday after the team's voluntary workouts, Jones explained what that new focus involves.
"Really my body," Jones said. "I've started paying attention to my body – the way I eat, the way I take care of it. I feel like that's going to take me to the next level."
Speaking with ESPN's Vaughn McClure, Jones said he is around 220 pounds as of right now, but that he plans to add 10-15 pounds to his frame prior to the start of the season.
With an added focus on nutrition, Jones is hoping to be able to maintain his playing weight throughout the duration of the season – something that can be difficult for NFL players due to the day-in, day-out physical demands of the job.
"I feel like I did a good job keeping it for the most part last year. I feel like I could do an even better job just taking my game to a whole new level – eating wise – and being very specific about what I put in my body."
Jones' nutrition isn't the only aspect of his game he is working on, however. Located in the center of the defense, a team's middle linebacker is often referred to as the quarterback of the defense. As such, leadership and communication skills are important.
In his second season, Jones felt like his coaches and teammates did a good job of getting him out of his comfort zone and to improve as a vocal leader, which goes against his natural tendency. Now, he's learning there are a variety of effective ways to lead, depending on the situation.
"I've never been an outspoken guy when it comes to leadership," Jones said. "I feel like [linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich], and the guys in our room and [head coach Dan Quinn] did a good job of getting guys out of their comfort zone. I enjoyed it. It was very different. I like to lead by example, I don't really like to get up in people's faces or nothing but sometimes it takes that from a leader. Getting out of that comfort zone really helped me, because I have to live up to that too."
The notion of the Brotherhood is a common talking point both internally and externally for the Falcons. In the locker room, however, there does seem to be a strong connection between the players. Especially on defense, where a young unit has continued to grow alongside one another.
With that growth comes a greater sense of trust and accountability. "I feel like they expect something out of me, and it's my job to give that to them every play. It's the same thing that I expect from them, and that's where the brotherhood comes in – I depend on them and they depend on me. I know I can't slack off because they expect me to be there when I need to be there."