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Packers: Mike McCarthy has long been a fan of second-round pick and defensive back Josh Jones

May 20, 2017

GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy is not a draftnik.

He’s got no designs on being the Green Bay Packers coach and general manager. He’s not taking whatever spare time he has during the season and putting it toward college scouting, retiring to some Lambeau Field anteroom looking at prospects’ film. And he’s not sneaking into the team’s draft room every spring, looking at the board and moving his favorites up the board.

That all falls under the purview of GM Ted Thompson and his staff, and McCarthy is all good with that, thank you. But every once in awhile …

“Really, Ted runs that aspect of it. The personnel department does a great job,” McCarthy said earlier this week. “Frankly, I think my participation is more about, it’s just great to have the guys back when they’re here (for the offseason program). I don’t sit in there and go through every player with those guys.”

But there are times when McCarthy will cross paths with one of the guys from the scouting department in the hallways of 1265 Lombardi Ave., and the conversation will turn to the draft. That’s what happened last fall, on a random afternoon when McCarthy bumped into Packers director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst, who — knowing McCarthy’s affinity for versatile players and the coach’s desire to have players fill more diverse roles on both sides of the ball — had just the guy for him.

That guy? Josh Jones, the do-everything North Carolina State defensive back whom the Packers selected with the second of their two second-round picks (No. 61 overall) in last month’s NFL draft.

“I remember seeing (film of) Josh Jones playing back in November. And Brian Gutekunst saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to take a look at this guy,’ ” McCarthy recalled of Jones. “So he was a favorite player of mine in the draft class long before we even went to the combine (in February).”

McCarthy wasn’t the only one smitten with Jones; Gutekunst, who used to live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and still has close ties to the Wolfpack staff, really liked him, too. Jones made a strong first impression during the team’s post-draft rookie orientation camp, exhibiting the confidence and versatility that drew the Packers to him.

“His versatility is one of his best assets and I don’t think he would shy away from playing (anywhere),” Gutekunst said following the draft. “His coverage ability — not necessarily at corner, but his ability to cover wide receivers, backs, tight ends, that was very (appealing). And he’s a very good tackler in space and in the box. He’s one of those guys at N.C. State you’d see they drop him in there, kind of play a will linebacker and he’ll shoot the gap and take on the big guys inside and has no problem doing that. And when he’s back in the back end, he’s got to get the speed guys he has no problem with that either.

“We seem him as one of those guys that’s going to help on a lot of fronts. … That’s the exciting thing for us is the ability that he can do so many things.”

The Packers’ thoughts for the 2017 season — preparations for which will take another significant step on Monday when their annual full-squad organized team activity practices kick off — have been focused on several things this offseason.

They wanted to get bigger, and both their second round picks — cornerback Kevin King (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and Jones (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) — fit the bill there. They also wanted to get faster, something both King (4.43-second 40-yard dash) and Jones (4.41) are, too. But they also wanted to be more versatile, and that’s just as important to McCarthy as speed and size. And again, King, who played safety, slot corner and outside corner at Washington, and Jones, who was already lining up at linebacker at the rookie camp, can do.

“I think the more versatility you have in any aspect of this business, it helps you,” McCarthy explained. “But I think it’s important know as you work through this where they are in their development, what their experiences have been, the versatility, what has it created for them. Because that’s where I think some guys may get overlooked and so forth. I think this definitely fits in the mode of the more you can do, the better opportunity you have to progress.”

Last season, the Packers began experimenting with using veteran safety Morgan Burnett as a hybrid safety/linebacker in their nickel package, and Jones should allow them to take that to an even greater level.

Having lost versatile defensive back Micah Hyde to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, the Packers wanted someone who can do what Hyde did (play both safety spots, the nickel and dime slot positions and outside corner in a pinch) and do what Burnett did at linebacker last season, freeing him up to move around the defense or stay in the back end.

“In college, I played some linebacker, I played everywhere. I kind of knew that whatever team that drafted me would have some packages for me,” said Jones, who signed his rookie contract Friday. “I was pretty fortunate to get drafted by the Green Bay Packers (because) this defense will allow me to show my abilities.”