D.J. Jones was playing well despite a bum ankle last season, remaining an integral part of the 49ers during a heated NFC West race with the playoffs coming on fast. He ignored the pain and kept on grinding through a Week 14 game at the New Orleans Saints, turning in one of his best performances that year in a tense, back-and-forth affair.
Jones had two tackles and a forced fumble the 49ers recovered deep in Saints territory and easily turned into a touchdown, part of a breakout year for the Mississippi product. At some point in that 48-46 win at the Superdome, while playing on one bad wheel, he hurt the other one.
It was an ill-timed high ankle sprain that landed him on injured reserve and unable to continue on the 49ers' run that extended into Super Bowl LIV. That was a significant blow for the team and Jones alike.
“It was very disappointing for me,” Jones said Thursday in a video conference with local reporters. “I felt like I was on the rise and that there was a lot more out there for me. I feel like I could’ve helped my team along the way. At the same time, God doesn’t make mistakes. There’s nothing I can do about the past. I can only work hard for the future.”
He’s working hard toward next season with a clean bill of health.
“Physically, I’m doing great and getting my body in great shape,” Jones said. “The ankle is 100 percent. I’m able to run and cut. There are several places out here where I’m able to work to get the work done.”
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Jones is back home in South Carolina with his family, finding places to train during the coronavirus pandemic. He doesn’t just expect to rejoin the 49ers in Santa Clara as the same run-stopping nose tackle or three-technique he was in 2019.
The defensive tackle wants to prove a better pass rusher than in the past. He only has two career sacks, both of them last year, in relativity limited opportunities.
“I know I have it in me,” Jones said. “I need the opportunity and I need to continue to work at my craft to get better. If I stop my feet, I’ll get stuck in mud and I won’t be able to make many plays. If my hands keep working and my feet keep working, I can get to the quarterback.”
Jones is particularly motivated this offseason, especially after missing out on last year’s run to the Super Bowl and that heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“It was motivating than disappointing because I wasn’t able to play,” Jones said. “To see my brothers out there fighting, to see that we had an opportunity to win is motivation, to me, that we can get back to that game. That’s why I’m working hard right now trying to get back.”