Re: TE Justin Jones
posted at 8/6/2014 12:12 PM EDT
RICHMOND, Va. — There’s something about Justin Jones. When he’s on the field, you can’t take your eyes off him. Naturally, his massive 6-foot-8, 275-pound frame instantly draws you in.
But there’s also a curiosity factor that’s hard to resist. At that size, the undrafted rookie free agent tight end looks more suited to basketball than football. When you consider how the game has evolved and his potential red-zone capabilities, especially with his 37-inch vertical leap and athleticism, it’s possible for Jones to develop into something pretty special.
Or, he could be nothing more than a tall tease.
Thus far in training camp, he’s made some nice catches in that priceless stretch of real estate spanning from the 20-yard line in, otherwise known as the red zone. He’s also had some noticeable drops.
Of late, with Rob Gronkowski not making the trip for the joint practices with the Redskins, and Michael Hoomanawanui hurt, Jones has seen more reps with the first-team offense. At times, he’s taken advantage and made plays. Other times, like yesterday, he was sent on a penalty lap by coach Bill Belichick for a false start during two-minute drills.
So it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. But there’s certainly been progress as Jones tries to get up to speed with the NFL.
“He didn’t play last year because he was academically ineligible, and to be honest with you, I’m blown away by the opportunity he has right now,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who has been on site watching the joint practice sessions. “With the injury situation at tight end, and the fact he’s in the huddle with Tom Brady, he can never walk away and say he didn’t have a great chance. With a body this big, to his credit, he got himself in shape and lost some weight, and his movement skills looking really good, he just needs to play consistently and work his tail off.”
And Jones knows he’s in an ideal situation. He’s getting mentored by Gronk, having passes thrown to him by Brady, and getting blocking tips from tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. He’ll probably see a ton of time in tomorrow’s preseason opener against the Redskins.
“Right now, I’m just trying to get better, watch the film (from the practice sessions), and learn from it,” Jones said after yesterday’s marathon practice in sweltering heat. “I’m going to do my best to fill in, play my role. I’ve got a good opportunity. So I’m just trying to capitalize on it and make the most of it.”
Mayock called him a bit of an “underachiever” at East Carolina. Jones caught 52 passes in three seasons (12 touchdowns). He didn’t play much of the 2011 season because of injuries and missed all of last season when ECU declared him academically ineligible.
Jones did catch a touchdown pass yesterday during a red-zone drill with Jimmy Garoppolo as the quarterback. He also did quite a bit of blocking with the first unit, as he squashed blitzing safety E.J. Biggers during one sequence. The past two days he hasn’t had any glaring drops.
“Dropped balls are part of training camp. Everyone drops passes. You just can’t dwell on ’em, you can’t focus on ’em. Just play the next play,” Jones said. “It’s getting closer to crunch time now, so everyone is fired up, a little more excited. I wouldn’t say I’m more focused because I’ve been trying to be as focused as I can this entire time. I’m just trying to be more consistent and reliable for my teammates and have Tom know he can trust me out there along with the offensive line and Ryan Mallett and everyone else.”
He’s 22 and sounds like a pretty confident kid. He wasn’t rattled by his earlier drops and knows he has a legitimate shot to make the team. If he plays well, it’ll be hard for the Pats to get a 6-8 tight end through waivers and onto the practice squad.
“I hope to (make the team). That’s all of us rookies’ goal, is to make the team, to stick around,” he said. “Obviously, my eyes are on the prize. The (53-man) roster is something we’re all trying to make, rookie, vet, everybody. Like coach Belichick says, nothing is promised in training camp. There’s injuries, there are people who don’t get the job done. We’re all out here trying to do the best we can.”
Jones was a hoop star in high school, big on rebounds and blocked shots. In the NFL, the red zone awaits. In time, he could come to own it.