WR Jones pleased with play in first game since 2013

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — TJ Jones wasn't nervous about his first appearance in a Lions uniform Thursday night.

"I felt like it was well overdue," the second-year wide receiver said Friday.

A sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2014, Jones hadn't played in a game since December 2013 after suffering a shoulder injury.

But once he had the opportunity, Jones showed flashes of why the Lions wanted to add him to their receiving corps.

The 6-foot Jones caught his only target for a 15-yard gain against the Jets, but he also impressed on special teams. As the primary punt returner in the second half of the 23-3 victory over the Jets, he had a 24-yard punt return and should continue to have opportunities in the remaining exhibition games.

Jones, however, has to make the 53-man roster ahead of some other receivers to have a chance to show what he can do in a real NFL game.

"I think I've got to show all of my capabilities, all my strengths," he said. "Whether it's returning, whether it's blocking on punt return or running down as a gunner on punt, doing kick return duties, I think just being as versatile as possible is going to give me my best chances of making the squad."

Jones' official punt return numbers were three returns for 31 yards, but he performed better than those statistics.

On his first punt return in the third quarter, Jones broke free for a 20-yard return, but a holding penalty on cornerback Nevin Lawson negated the play. And in the fourth quarter, Jones had a 14-yard return, but Lawson was called for holding again.

Jones' receiving numbers could have been better, too.

He had a 9-yard reception taken away in the third quarter by a defensive holding penalty, which gave the Lions a first down instead of 3rd-and-1.

"I think I did well," Jones said. "There's definitely things I can work on, but as far as knowing my assignments, doing what I could when I got my few touches. I think that's always the first way I judge myself is mental errors — not having stupid mistakes on plays."

If Jones can provide value as a returner, he could be an appealing replacement for Jeremy Ross. Lance Moore, Ryan Broyles and Ross are among Jones' competition at receiver.

"My initial thoughts would be that we're blocking better up front and giving guys a chance to get started and once TJ got started, he was able to make some things go," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of Jones' punt returns. "He has speed, he's slippery enough to get through some small cracks that he had there, and I think he did a very nice job."

Jones recognizes his role in games isn't up to him, but he has to take advantage of each opportunity. He also said his older teammates said he should stay as level-headed as possible throughout games.

"I'm not going to be perfect, but at the same time, I can't get so caught up in the good plays that the next play I force and mess up," Jones said.

And after more than a year without playing, Jones had the perfect reaction to a question about finally taking another hit.

"Finally," he said. "It was like, 'All right, I got hit; it's good. I feel normal, get back up.' "