Lions' Jones ready to step into spotlight

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
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Marvin Jones caught 65 passes for the Bengals last season for 816 yards and four touchdowns.

Marvin Jones hasn’t been the main attraction on his football team’s offense since high school.

A four-star recruit out of Etiwanda High about 45 miles east of Los Angeles, Jones was productive at California, but often played second fiddle behind running backs Jahvid Best (Lions first-round pick, 2010) and Shane Vereen (Patriots second-round pick, 2011) and wide receiver Keenan Allen (Chargers third-round pick, 2013).

When Jones joined the Bengals as a fifth-round pick in 2012, he again played behind some top talent — wide receiver A.J. Green was the fourth overall pick in 2011, tight end Jermaine Gresham was a first-rounder in 2010, tight end Tyler Eifert was taken in the first round in 2013, and running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill were second-rounders in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Still, Jones did enough during his four years in Cincinnati, including career highs of 65 catches and 816 receiving yards last year, to impress Detroit’s decision-makers enough to sign a five-year, $40 million contract last week.

According to people who know him, Jones can handle any kind of adversity, particularly after becoming a father at 18.

“Marvin had an amazing mentality on the field,” his high school coach, Stephen Bryce, said. “It was like a never quit, no matter what the situation is. He had that mentality like, ‘I have your back, and I’m going to get the ball, and I’m going to do something with it and just come with me.’”

Bryce was an assistant at Etiwanda during Jones’ freshman year, and said the team went 0-10 in 2004. Bryce took over as coach when Jones was a sophomore, and the team improved to 3-7.

In Jones’ junior season, Bryce said he could tell the receiver could be special. And as he took over more games, the team had more success, improving to 6-5-1 and winning the league title. Etiwanda also earned a share of the title in 2007.

“There was a number of occasions where he was able to just take over a game and was almost unstoppable,” Bryce said.

Jones, 25, was much more than a wide receiver. As a sophomore, he also played linebacker and defensive end.

“He had skinny legs then, but he was just tough,” Bryce said. “He had a kind of physical toughness about him that we could get him to come up and jam a tight end and even stunt an offensive tackle and keep contain and set the edge.”

Versatile and tough

Jones also spent some time at defensive back, and as a junior, he added 62 tackles and three interceptions to his 63 catches for 1,309 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a senior, he had 71 tackles and four interceptions as well as 81 catches for 1,040 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Among the things that stood out to Bryce about Jones was his hand size, measured at 101/4 inches at the combine. He said Jones wore the biggest gloves on the Bengals, XXXL.

“When you see his one-handed, falling-back catches, ‘You’re like, that’s not humanly possible,’ ” Bryce said. “Then you see his big mitts and like, ‘Oh, that’s how you did it.’ ”

Jones also impressed in the weight room, lifting nearly 300 pounds on the power clean in high school despite being listed at 177 pounds by Rivals.com. Part of the strength, Bryce believes, comes from growing up with a father, Marvin Sr., who was a wrestler at Cal State-Bakersfield.

Young father

Bryce expected Jones to go to Oregon. Instead, Bryce said Jones chose California because of his relationship with then-coach Jeff Tedford.

The relationship was so strong that when Jones’ wife, Jazmyn, called to tell him she was pregnant the August before his freshman season, Tedford was one of the first people with whom Jones spoke.

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According to Tedford, Jones was nervous about how his family would react, but the coach told him his father would be supportive.

So Tedford called Marvin Jones Sr. that morning, left his office and let the father and son talk about the upcoming obstacles.

“Once Marv knew that he had the support of everybody, then he did great,” Tedford said.

Marvin Jones III was born in January 2009.

“He was the cutest little kid, and Marv did such a great job with him, was just a loving parent, a loving dad and you could tell that the kid was very happy and content and we loved having him around,” Tedford said.

Jones and his wife now have three sons, and when he signed his contract with the Lions, all of them were in Allen Park with him, enjoying a different experience than the initial shock of becoming a young father.

“It totally grounded me and made me grow up faster when I was younger and just to have this moment right now with them, it means the world to me,” Jones said during a teleconference last week.

Ready for anything

In Detroit, Jones won’t have to be the No. 1 receiver because the Lions have Golden Tate, who’s had at least 90 catches in two seasons.

The Lions, however, hope Tate and Jones can combine to help quarterback Matthew Stafford overcome the loss of Johnson.

But no matter the role, Jones is prepared for it.

The 2016 season will be Marvin Jones' fourth in the NFL.

At California, Jones was seemingly set to become the No. 1 weapon his junior year before Allen, a five-star recruit, arrived in 2010.

“Marv never complained one time,” Tedford said. “He always was very supportive, a great mentor to Keenan and played his role on the team.”

In that role, Jones was fearless when the ball was in the air and competitive after the catch. And he has maintained those traits in the NFL, forcing 27 missed tackles after the catch the past two years, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s a competitor,” said Lions cornerback Johnson Bademosi, who played against Jones at Stanford and with the Browns. “He’s a really good receiver. He is very well rounded.”

Bademosi also said he’s never heard a bad thing about Jones.

“He’s a fierce competitor on the football field, but when he gets off the football field there’s not a nicer young man,” Tedford said.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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