Lions’ TJ Jones prepared to show more than potential

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
TJ Jones

Allen Park — Lions wide receiver TJ Jones flashed potential in 2015, but as it turns out, he wasn’t even 100-percent healthy until late in his second season.

Jones missed his entire rookie season due to a nerve-related injury in his shoulder, and he said he could feel his hand strength finally return to normal sometime late last season. As he prepares for Year 3 -- in a season in which the Lions likely need him to perform -- Jones said he’s feeling good.

“Finally,” he said after organized team activities last week.

It would’ve been hard to tell Jones wasn’t quite 100 percent last year as he surpassed the appropriately modest public expectations.

The Lions hardly used more than three receivers at a time last year, so Moore was typically on the bench while Lance Moore handled the No. 3 job. But, when Moore missed Weeks 13 and 14, Jones stepped up with a career high in receiving yards (37) one week and a career high in catches (four) the next.

And even after Moore returned, Jones caught a 27-yard touchdown between two defenders in Week 16. He finished the year with 10 catches for 132 yards as well as a few nice returns, including a 28-yard punt return.

With a strong end of the season, Jones proved that he can likely handle more opportunities, but it’s unclear if they’ll be available, which is why he’s keeping his goals attainable this year.

“I don’t set numeric goals,” he said. “It’s more just don’t have any mental errors today, don’t miss a block today, don’t have any drops today. I’ll keep track of how many errors or drops, if I have any missed blocks, missed assignments.  But as far as how many catches I want or how many yards I want, I try to keep (away from) that because that’s only so much up to you as a receiver. A lot of it depends on play calling and a lot of other things.”

The Lions didn’t draft a wide receiver in 2016, but they added two free agents, top-of-market Marvin Jones and experienced slot man Jeremy Kerley. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate figure to be atop the depth chart while Jones and Kerley compete for the No. 3 job this summer.

Because of what happened in free agency, TJ Jones didn’t get a confidence boost when the Lions didn’t draft a receiver. And even though Kerley is probably his direct competitor for both offensive snaps and return duties, TJ Jones said he’s enjoyed watching him practice so far.

And even though TJ Jones will have to compete for a role, all of the receivers — as well as tight ends and running backs — have a chance to contribute more with Calvin Johnson retired.

“It’s a competition, but at the same time it’s a competition to make each other better because we know, with him gone, there’s 100 balls to now be spread out amongst the five of us,” he said.