The receiving corps, led by Marvin Jones, keeps looking better and better.
Allen Park – Training camp practice had a different sound to it on Sunday, the distinct crack of human beings colliding at high speed as the Lions put on the pads for the first time this offseason.
But while eyes were inquisitively drawn to the performance of the offensive and defensive lines, particularly rookie left tackle Taylor Decker, it was a skill position player who stole the show.
Marvin Jones, the free-agent addition brought in to soften the blow of Calvin Johnson’s retirement, is already looking like he could be worth every penny of the five-year, $40 million deal he signed earlier this offseason.
Much like Golden Tate in 2014, Jones has come from another team and seamlessly stepped into the Lions’ offense. Even with the added bulk of pads, he was able to showcase the skill set that made him Detroit’s top target in free agency.
Jones can seemingly do it all, but most importantly given Johnson’s departure, Jones has the ability to stretch the field vertically. And it’s not just about getting to a top speed and blowing past the coverage, it’s his spatial awareness in relation to a defender and the elite ability to track the football through the air that makes the receiver supremely effective.
“It’s just the focus,” Jones said. “When the ball is in the air, I don’t really care who is on me. It’s just me and the ball. It doesn’t matter if it’s one, two, how many people (covering me), I just focus on it."
Running head-to-head against Darius Slay, the team’s top cornerback, much of the afternoon, Jones was routinely able to get enough separation to make the grab. Jones’ best play came in one-on-one drills, where he got a step on Slay and caught a well-placed bomb over his shoulder just across the goal line.
While the receiving position has a reputation for producing some of the league’s loudest personalities, Jones opted for humility when discussing his performance, shifting credit to quarterback Matthew Stafford, as well as the competition.
“It was just a good throw,” said Jones, who is 6-foot-2, 198 pounds. “It was tightly contested. (Slay) does a good job. As much as we go against each other, the better we’re going to make each other.”
Even though Jones wasn’t interested in praising himself, newly signed receiver Anquan Boldin has been impressed with what he’s seen during his few days with the Lions.
“He’s definitely explosive,” Boldin said. “He’s a guy that can definitely stretch the field. And he’s a big-bodied receiver that can go up and get the football, so that’s something will we’ll be looking to exploit with him.”
The beauty of Jones’ game is he’s not just a vertical threat. He’s a multi-faceted receiver who also operates fearlessly across the middle of the field and can take a short pass and make a tackler miss in space. His skill set nicely compliments the possession skills of Boldin in the slot and the lethal open-field elusiveness of Tate.
“He’s well-rounded,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “I mean there’s not too many things that are going to limit him. He can stretch the field, he can cross the field; he’s a very, very conscientious and good route runner, and obviously he’s got good hands as well.”
After practice, Jones demonstrated a unique way he strengthens his hands, utilizing the JUGS machine. Every receiver gets in daily work on the device, which spits out footballs at a high rate of speed to simulate a pass, but Jones likes to creep closer and closer until he’s catching rockets from approximately a foot away.
“That’s what I do all the time, and it looks pretty cool, too,” Jones said. “When I first got into Cincinnati, that’s just something I started doing. We all eventually started doing (it), to see how close we can get.
“It can sting, but we’re pros. If it does, we won’t show it.”
Jones is expected to play a big role in the Lions’ passing game this season, which has finished in the top 10 four of the past five years. As the number-two option in Cincinnati last year, he finished with 65 grabs for 816 yards and four touchdowns.