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Travis Jones brings familiar approach to coaching defensive line
The connection between Dan Quinn and Travis Jones is undeniable.
Quinn is the Seahawks’ first-year defensive coordinator, and Jones his handpicked defensive line coach. They come at just about everything in the same way and with the same intensity. Close your eyes while Jones was putting the linemen through their early-practice paces during one of the spring OTA or minicamp sessions and you would swear it was Quinn out there in 2009-10 when he was the D-line coach.
“With a deeper voice,” Quinn said with a laugh.
But that’s the basis to their bond: The shared approach to coaching – no, teaching.
“I’m pleased with the teaching that Travis has been doing,” Quinn said. “I like the direction we’re headed in.”
They first met in 2003, when Jones was the D-line coach at LSU and Quinn had the same position with the San Francisco 49ers. They worked on the same staff with the Miami Dolphins in 2005-06, when Quinn was the D-line coach and Jones was his assistant for a season before coaching the outside linebackers and defensive ends.
“We’ve always stayed in touch since then,” Quinn said. “So I always thought if we had an opportunity to get connected again we’d kind of like to do that.”
Opportunity knocked in January, when defensive coordinator Gus Bradley left to become head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and took line coach Todd Wash with him. Quinn, who had been Bradley’s line coach before leaving in 2011 to take the coordinator job at the University of Florida, was an obvious choice to replace Bradley. For Quinn, Jones was a just-as-obvious choice to replace Wash.
“I didn’t know if he’d be able to get out of his deal there,” Quinn said. “But I just always had respect for the way he did it and the way he went about it.”
Jones did get out of his deal, so after five seasons as the assistant D-line coach with the New Orleans Saints he was Seattle-bound.
“I always had the aspiration of getting to the NFL,” Jones said. “So when Nick (Saban) went from LSU to the Miami Dolphins (in 2005), I went along and that’s when Dan and I first worked together.”
Like Quinn’s fondness for the way Jones goes about his business, Jones also liked the way Quinn coached and taught.
“I always had a lot of respect for how Dan did things, how he coached,” Jones said. “As for the Seahawks, they’ve had success here and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
But working for a coordinator who used to coach the Seahawks’ D-line requires special attributes.
“I knew Travis wouldn’t get offended with me looking over all the time,” Quinn said. “I’m sure it’s not easy for him at times.”
Quinn can relate, because he’s in a similar situation while coordinating the defense coach Pete Carroll brought with him in 2010.
“I don’t get bent out of shape or sideways,” Quinn said with a smile. “And Travis doesn’t either. You could see how it wouldn’t be easy all the time, but based on our prior experience I think it’s a little easier.”
In addition to that experience with Quinn, Jones also has experience in coaching a front like the one used by Carroll.
“When I was with Nick Saban, it was a very similar setup with four distinct position guys – body type-wise and skill-wise,” Jones said.
The Seahawks’ stable of linemen features some thoroughbreds – undersized Leo end Chris Clemons, who has 33.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the club; nose tackle Brandon Mebane, who leads all NFC interior linemen with 112 tackles the past two seasons; and oversized end Red Bryant, who has blossomed into a run-stuffing force since Quinn moved him from tackle in 2010. The Seahawks augmented that group this offseason by signing ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency and adding tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams in the NFL Draft.
But coaching quality, and getting the most out of a player, is nothing new for Jones. In his previous stops, his linemen included Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis with the Saints; Jason Taylor with the Dolphins; Chad Lavalais, Marquise Hill and Marcus Spears while at LSU in 2003-04; Nate Dwyer while at Kansas in 2001-02; and Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud while at Georgia in 1997.
But more than who he has worked with is how Jones has worked with these players, and all the players he has coached.
“Travis really gets it when it comes to the defensive line,” Quinn said. “We’re really fortunate to have him here. For us to have worked so closely together and then to have stayed in touch through the years and talked about guys, I couldn’t be more thrilled knowing here’s a guy who sees it exactly like I do.”