Art Jones is giving the Ravens what they lost when Cory Redding left in free agency. When they signed veteran defensive end Cory Redding before the 2010 season, the Ravens, as they often do when introducing free-agent signings, trumpeted that he "played like a Raven." But in Redding, they really did bring in the kind of underrated building block that helps cement the foundation of a contending team. For two years, Redding was a stout run defender who sometimes contributed as an interior pass rusher and always represented the team well whenever a microphone was shoved in his face. But this offseason, the Ravens let Redding sign with Indianapolis, where he joined Chuck Pagano's Colts. The Ravens were strapped for salary cap space, but they also let him walk because they felt it was time that young defenders Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones were ready to step into the starting lineup. McPhee, who was second on the team with six sacks last season, has been one of the season's biggest disappointments. He has struggled to shed weight and blockers, totaling just half a sack and missing four games with injuries to his right knee and right thigh. But Jones has shined over the past six weeks, and he made another handful of impact plays in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Early in the quarter, he single-handedly short-circuited a Redskins drive when he knifed into the backfield to tackle running back Alfred Morris for a 3-yard loss on first down, then hit quarterback Robert Griffin III hard on second-down sack. Backed up near the goal line, the Redskins were forced to run a draw play to give their punter a little breathing room. Then, on Washington's crazy game-tying drive in the final minutes, he and outside linebacker Paul Kruger -- another recent Ravens bright spot -- teamed up to sack Griffin, who would be knocked out of the game moments later by an awkward hit by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Jones has had a sack in three straight games and 4.5 over that span. Jones is still splitting snaps with McPhee and others along the defensive line, but he is giving the Ravens meaningful minutes, finally flashing the pass-rushing potential that he displayed at Syracuse. He was on Mel Kiper's Big Board at the start of his senior season, but he dropped to the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft because of injuries. He has literally worked his butt off the past two summers with his brother, UFC superstar Jon "Bones" Jones, but his coaches say that improved technique is the reason for his recent breakout. And you can't help but pull for one of the good guys in the locker room. Jones is always quick to flash a smile, shake your hand or provide a sound bite whenever you pop by his locker, which is right next to the loquacious Terrell Suggs. I guess you could say Jones is also similar to Redding in that regard. But most importantly, Jones has been playing like Redding, too, and the Ravens really need him to keep it up.
Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron