Allen Park – Lions receiver TJ Jones entered training camp with a different feeling this year.
Jones missed his entire rookie season in 2014 with a nerve-related injury in his shoulder and wasn’t 100 percent until late last year. This time around, though, he’s fully healthy heading into his third season with the team.
“Really it’s the first time I’ve come into a camp without having any reservations, so I definitely was just looking forward to getting back to football and progressing my game,” Jones said following Saturday’s practice.
Jones could contend for a more prominent role on offense following his solid finish a year ago. After spending most of his time on the bench while Lance Moore handled the No. 3 job, Jones took advantage when Moore missed Weeks 13 and 14, recording career highs in receiving yards (37) and catches (four).
Over a four-week stretch from Weeks 13-16, Jones was targeted 14 times and made nine catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Through the first 11 games, Jones had just one catch – an 11-yard reception in Week 5 – and was targeted only three times.
He finished the season playing 159 snaps (14.74 percent) on offense, with 134 of those coming in the final five games. Jones also played 36 snaps (7.88 percent) on special teams and averaged 8.4 yards on seven punt returns.
“There’s a little bit of confidence just getting some of that playing time at receiver,” Jones said. “From those plays that I did play, I learned a lot about the game and defenses and reading coverages, so the things you learn in an actual game, you can’t put a price on them. That’s what I gained the most.”
The addition of free-agent receiver Anquan Boldin bumped Jones down the depth chart. On Friday and Saturday, Jones mainly took second-team reps and lined up outside on both sides, as well as in the slot; he says he’s equally comfortable and confident at both. He also spent time working on special teams fielding punts.
And whether it’s returning, blocking or lining up inside or outside, Jones views his role as doing whatever is needed.
“I definitely think there’s more I can bring to the table just again with working with the offense, getting timing down, having the experience from last year,” Jones said.
“Working this offseason, that’s more experience. Going into preseason, that’s more experience. So with every day, every practice, every game I’m learning, trying to bring something new to the table and do my part for this team. There’s never a second I’m not trying to better myself and the team.”