Former Pro Bowler Kyle Vanden Bosch: Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones ‘On a Mission’ To Prove He Is Still Elite

Kyle Vanden Bosch was a second-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2001  and played four seasons with the team. He became a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Tennessee Titans and finished up a 12-year career with the Detroit Lions. As the Cardinals and Titans prepare to face off on Sunday, caught up with Vanden Bosch to talk about Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Jeffery Simmons and Mike Vrabel.

There is a lot of talk about the age and durability of J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones as they get into their 30s. How did you feel physically at the end of your career compared to the beginning?

Years 5, 7 and 9 were my best seasons. I think J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones will both tell you this — as a professional you find ways to take care of your body better. When you’re younger, you’re kind of invincible. You can eat what you want and your body just responds. You recover from games a lot quicker. As you get older, you find ways to take better care of your body. 

For me, it was an accumulation of injuries. When I went to Detroit in Year 10, I had my first cervical fusion. I played another season and then I had a second cervical fusion. Then it became limiting contact and wear-and-tear. It wasn’t really who I was. I wanted to be the guy who worked the hardest on the practice field, work the hardest off the field. I never wanted to be the guy that was managing reps.

It sounds like Watt has more parallels to you. Jones is coming off the season-ending biceps injury, but prior to that was pretty healthy. Do you think there is more concern about Watt staying healthy?

Yeah, and it’s the type of injuries that concern you. Chandler Jones, his money-maker is his legs. He’s got incredible speed and agility. Obviously he’s a master technician with his hands, but he’s not the type of guy that’s anchoring down and taking on double teams with his upper body.

For the most part he’s on the edge, and J.J. Watt is in the middle of the defense more. He’s got two 350-pounders banging against him on a lot of plays. He’s got guys around his knees and ankles. Relating it back to my career, the injury that was toughest for me to get back from and really get back to full speed was a groin injury. I know J.J. has dealt with that lower abdominal groin injury before as well. You use so much power and torque with your knees, hips and lower body that it’s a concern. 

Saying that, I blew out both my knees my first four years and went on to have nine years and three Pro Bowls. I never really had further knee problems, so it’s not necessarily a predictor or your durability.

Jones looks to be in really good shape. He seems motivated. He obviously wants a contract extension and will be headed into free agency if he doesn’t. What were your impressions of him during training camp? 

He seems really determined. He seems to be a player that’s not necessarily motivated by the contract — which can be dangerous — or motivated by the next pay day, but it’s more about respect. Particularly disrespect. Even the way last year was going prior to the injury, I feel like he’s on a mission to prove himself right and prove a lot of people wrong. To show he’s one of, if not the best, outside pass-rusher in the NFL.

Watt seems like such a pivotal piece on defense. If he’s close to the guy he used to be, you have a game-wrecker. If he gets hurt or is not the same guy, that’s a big blow. Is he a player that will help determine how the Cardinals play defensively?

Absolutely, and it’s not just his impact on the stat line. It’s not just his potentially huge impact on the pass rush. He’s an emotional leader. I love seeing him wired up, because he’s the bellcow of your defense, and he’s going to bring it every day and every play. He brings energy and enthusiasm, and other players feed off that. I’ll give an example: When Budda Baker was hurt last year and couldn’t play (against the Panthers), you could see the emotional letdown. The team looked flat. They didn’t have their sparkplug out there.

The Titans’ top pass-rusher is Bud Dupree, but he’s coming off a torn ACL in Week 12 last year. You went through it. What do you expect from Dupree early, and will it take a little while for him to ramp up to what he can be?

I feel like it will. From a personal standpoint — and every recovery is different — but just from my experience, I was OK the year following an ACL. But it was (really back to normal) two years after. For an edge rusher, there is so much bend and torque on your lower body., rotational movements with your knees. And I would see myself on tape the first eight games back, not even knowing it but backing away from piles, being really concerned with people falling into my legs. Those are things you only get over with time and with reps. Knowing the direction that preseason has gone, and knowing how little hitting and contact there is during an offseason now for NFL players, it’s difficult to imagine that even if he’s physically fully recovered, mentally he’s fully confident in planting, on getting hit, on the contact aspect of it.

If Dupree is not up to full strength, is Jeffery Simmons a guy the Titans can rely on to lead the way with the pass rush?

He’s a monster physically. He reminds me of — I played with Albert Haynesworth in Tennessee and I played with Ndamukong Suh. He’s just so powerful. I don’t know that he’s super dynamic as a pass-rusher. I don’t know that he’s ever going to be an Aaron Donald, where he’s a double-digit sack guy. But he’s definitely a physical presence.

Having said that, there’s only the special few in the history of the league that can get there by themselves. You need two dominant pass-rushers. You need a couple of other players that have the ability to win. Sometimes you need three or four. That’s something the Cardinals have figured out. It’s difficult when you need that third-down pressure, and you know there’s only one guy on your defensive front that has the ability to get to the quarterback. And offenses can figure that out and adjust their protection.

While I think (Simmons) is a fantastic player and a difference-maker, if Bud Dupree is not back to where he was and adds the outside pass rush, I don’t know that Simmons himself will make a big difference.

Everyone sees the type of explosiveness the Titans have on offense, but Football Outsiders has projected them to have the worst defense in the NFL this season. How good does the defense need to be in order for them to be a true contender?

They definitely need to be much better than they were last year. I have a lot of respect for coach Vrabel and I know he has a great defensive mind. I know he’s a hard-nosed coach; and while he’s benefitting from a really productive offense with some really elite weapons, I know he’s an old-school coach that believes in the importance of a good defense. Even when they were a playoff team last year, I know that was his biggest concern and kept him awake at night. 

I’m certain they addressed a few of their needs in free agency and the draft. I’m sure they’ve looked at everything possible scheme-wise to upgrade what they did last year. I do expect their numbers to be better, just from the simple fact that you have the benefit of not being in a dominant division. 

He’s winning games and getting to the playoffs, but when you’re a defensive head coach and your defense is not playing well, that does reflect on you.

As you look at this game, do you expect it to be high-scoring? There are cornerback questions for the Cardinals and questions defensively for Tennessee. Are both the offenses poised to start quickly?

It’s less a product of how good the defense are. If you poll the average fan and ask who has the best weapons on offense, I think the average fan puts both Tennessee and Arizona in the top five. It’s easy to see why. There are dynamic players all over the field on offense for both teams. And I think both teams are solid up front. 

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a shootout, but the team that is able to limit the explosive plays the most; the team that makes an offense put together 10-, 12-, 14-play drives and makes the offense execute play after play, I think that team wins.

You never know what you have until the regular season, but on paper I think the Cardinals’ defense does look much better than the Titans’ defense. But it’s more a product of execution and limiting those 20-yard runs and 25-yard catches.

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