Lions' Jones thinks dark days might finally be over

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
TJ Jones

When the Lions drafted TJ Jones last year, he became one step closer to his dream of playing in the NFL. Shortly thereafter, Jones' rookie season became a nightmare.

After undergoing minor shoulder surgery last June for an injury suffered in Notre Dame's bowl game the previous December, Jones expected to recover in time for training camp. Instead, a nerve injury kept him on the physically unable to perform list for the entire season.

"You get here, and then it's taken away from you in one swoop," Jones said when minicamp ended last month.

Now, entering his second season, Jones is confident the first serious injury of his football career is over and he can start contributing to his new team. But Jones experienced plenty of pain, both physical and mental, before reaching this point.

"I sat in a dark room a lot, and it was stressful for a couple months," he said. "Over time, once you realize there's nothing you can do, your body was going to heal at its own pace, you kind of accepted it."

After realizing he'd miss the start of his career, Jones said he spent a lot of time watching TV in his living room, trying to keep his mind off the injury. He lost nearly 20 pounds, too, as the shoulder injury limited what he could do in the weight room.

One outlet for his angst was his mother, with whom he spoke with on the phone nearly every day.

"She kind of keeps me up when I'm feeling down or kind of … gets me to snap out of it," he said.

Jones said his mother helped him realize he shouldn't stress over things he can't control, and that's the approach he's taking into 2015. Fortunately for him, the Lions' depth chart at wide receiver is unsettled behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, so if he performs well in training camp, Jones could have a role next season.

"I don't really have an expectation," he said. "It's more, I'm going out to get back to what I can do best or to work on doing everything that I can do to the best of my ability and letting the coaches decide where that falls in their minds. I'm not going to worry on what I can't control."

By going through a lengthy rehab last year, Jones said he learned how to take care of his body to prevent future injuries. The year on the sidelines also gave him time to learn every receiver position in the playbook and to learn how to break down NFL film.

But, Jones' play — along with the coaches' decisions — will determine his role this season, if there is one. Coach Jim Caldwell said after minicamp the Lions were pleased with his progress, and he closed out minicamp with an impressive contested catch on a deep touchdown pass. A few more of those could help give him an advantage over other receivers like Lance Moore, Jeremy Ross and Ryan Broyles, who are all likely fighting for the No. 4 job behind Corey Fuller.

To makes the necessary strides, Jones said he tried to completely forget about the injury during the offseason practices.

"I try to kind of blank out when I'm on the field," he said. "At least in my head, I don't have the excuse anymore. If they've allowed me to practice, then I'm going to go out there and practice with everyone else.

"If I'm going to play like everyone else or practice like everyone else, I've got to think the way they do and just try to execute to the best of my ability."