The Tennessee Titans signed several undrafted free agents at the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft. Former Michigan State defensive lineman Naquan Jones is one of those players. Jones was listed at 6-foot-3 and 313 pounds during the predraft process. Jones is a big body up the middle, something the Titans lost in free agency when veteran player DaQuan Jones signed with the Carolina Panthers. The coaching staff needs a young defensive lineman to step up and prove themselves capable of eating up double teams and stuffing the run. Jones could be that player.
Jones recently spoke exclusively with Broadway Sports about how he formed a relationship with Tennessee throughout the pre-draft process, what he can add to the defense, and how he plans to continue impressing the coaching staff over the next few weeks.
JM: Tell me a little about how the opportunity to sign with the Titans as an undrafted free agent came about.
NJ: I had many discussions with my agent about our options. Going through the draft process, not getting drafted was tough for me. I’m not going to lie to you. I felt like I put a lot into the process. It obviously didn’t play out the way I wanted it to. With that said, I’m extremely thankful and happy to have this opportunity with the Titans. I spoke with head coach Mike Vrabel a couple of weeks before the draft. I spoke with [defensive line] coach Terrell Williams twice. He showed me a lot of love.
Going into this situation, my agent and I talked about the Titans. My agent actually has a good relationship with coach Vrabel. He understood the situation here. He was of the opinion that Tennessee was the best place and fit for me. I’m in a place where I feel like the coaches actually want me. At the end of the day, picking Tennessee was an easy choice.
JM: That’s an excellent answer. I’m sure you had other offers and options on the table. It doesn’t sound like you considered another team all that seriously.
NJ: Going into the process, I actually made a little graph and broke each team down into tiers. I had three tiers and ranked each team. I looked at things like where I felt I fit the most, who needed a defensive tackle or nose guard, location and so on. I weighed how my conversations were going with each team. I had Tennessee in my first tier because of how our conversations were going. I felt strongly about my position here. I’m in a great situation. It was a pretty easy decision to make to be honest with you.
JM: That’s great to hear. What is your early impression of working with defensive line coach Terrell Williams?
NJ: He’s a great guy. He’s actually good friends with my coach at Michigan State. They share a lot of similarities. Working with coach Williams feels natural to me. It’s not much of a transition. He has the same values I was working under in college. We play Madden together sometimes (laughs). He’s a very personable guy. He’s a great coach in my opinion. As much as we joke around with one another, he also makes sure that I’m locked in and focused. He’s always ready to work. I had a lot of one-on-one time with him at rookie mini-camp because I’m the only rookie defensive tackle on the team. He’s already helped me so much. I’m happy that we have such a good balance. It’s not just serious and business all the time. He’s able to joke around with me and we’re able to do more than just football. We always get our work done in a timely manner.
JM: It’s important to have that relationship. You brought up something that I wanted to touch on there. You were the only defensive tackle at rookie mini-camp. That led to you getting coached by as many as three coaches at the same time. What was that experience like?
NJ: I loved it. I don’t think you can get enough coaching, especially as I try to make the jump to the next level. There are some things I still need to work on. There are some things the coaches wanted me to work on during that period away from the team before training camp started. Getting that attention from the coaches shows me that they really care about me. Those are the things that helped me make my decision in the first place. I’ve been getting a lot of love from these coaches. I knew that they wanted to coach me. I want to learn from them.
JM: We love hearing that. You were listed at roughly 320 pounds at Michigan State, although I know those things aren’t always accurate. You went through the pre-draft process at about 313 pounds. You probably dropped some weight for the testing process. What do you consider to be your ideal playing weight?
NJ: When I left Michigan State, I was actually closer to 340 pounds. The strength staff and my coaches want to see me play at 316 pounds. I’ve stayed in that 315 to 320 range throughout this period. I feel like I want to play a little lighter than that, something between 310 to 315 would be ideal in my opinion. At the end of the day, I’m going to follow their guidance. Whatever they want me to weigh and wherever they want me to play, that’s what I’m going to do.
JM: Do you feel like you’re more advanced as a run stopper or as a pass rusher at this point in time?
NJ: Definitely a run stopper. That was my thing at Michigan State. I knew that was gonna be the role for me. Michigan State made it clear from the beginning, I was going to be a run stopper up the middle. They asked me to push the pocket in pass rush situations. The more that I hear, the more I get to work with experienced guys, I think I’m still trending in the right direction as a pass rusher. I’m working on that right now. I dropped a ton of weight. That helps me showcase more of my athleticism. I want to make my coaches feel comfortable with putting me on the field in all situations. I want to be on the field for every run play situation, and hopefully I’ll earn their trust as a pass rusher in due time as well.
JM: Is there a teammate or two that you’re looking forward to practicing with and learning from this season?
NJ: I have so many great teammates. That was evident to me from the beginning. I started meeting all of the veterans back at our voluntary camp. We’re building those relationships every day. With me being the youngest guy in our room and the only rookie D-lineman, it’s easy for me to build a bond with these guys. They’re all good guys that wanna help me out. That’s the impression I get from them. We all have the same goals at the end of the day. They want me to succeed. If I do that, I can help them succeed as well. That’s how a defensive line works. They wanna push me because in theory, I could push them too. I’m ready to see what this team can do this fall.
JM: We’re ready for some football. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Naquan. In closing, what are your goals like for these next few weeks?
NJ: I just wanna stay healthy while pushing myself and my teammates to get better. One of our team mottos is to make a daily impact. That’s the goal every single day, both on and off the field. I wanna continue to do that at a high level. I wanna make a good impression on the coaching staff. I want them to feel like they made a great decision when they signed me. I don’t want to disappoint anybody. I’m trying to make this 53-man roster. That’s my biggest goal.