Allen Park — The hype surrounding Lions receiver Kenny Golladay in the preseason has slowed down in the past couple of weeks. It’s not necessarily that the rookie has done anything wrong, but some of that momentum is shifting to TJ Jones as the potential starting third receiver.
As the Lions prepare to open the season Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, they seem to be more comfortable with Jones as the third receiver — not that there’s much of a production differential between the third and fourth options.
They appear to be neck and neck for the third receiver position, but offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter wouldn’t commit Thursday to either as the leader for the spot.
“We’re going to play more than three, so everybody is going to play,” he said. “We’ll see how many reps everybody gets.”
There’s not a lot that separates Jones and Golladay, but it would be a mild surprise if Jones races ahead and gets significantly more reps than Golladay. Jones (6 feet, 190 pounds) excels in the slot, while Golladay (6-4, 213) has the components to be a good outside receiver, showing many flashes during training camp.
Jones, 25, is in his third season, and after being taken in the sixth round in the 2014 draft, looks to have found a good groove, also shining on special teams as a returner.
“They do different things well. At the same time, TJ is a vet and knows how we do things,” Cooter said. “We have a really good comfort level with TJ. Kenny is a rookie in this league: First week, first game and you have to take all those things into account.”
In 2015, his first year of significant action, Jones played in 10 games and totaled 10 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. He played in just three games last season, with five receptions for 93 yards.
The role looks to be bigger for Jones this year, as he’s added muscle mass and worked his way into the conversation as a starter. Golladay has stormed the scene as a third-round selection from Northern Illinois in this year’s draft.
“I’m just trying to focus on perfecting my craft and making sure I put my best ability in everything I do on the field,” Jones said. “I don’t know if it’s anything to the (slot) position specifically; I look at it as another opportunity to get on the field and make plays.
“When I’m there, I want to be the best slot receiver and when I’m outside, be the best outside receiver. It comes with any position that I play on the field and the pride I take in playing it.”
Golladay’s size is tantalizing, but Jones’ experience may turn out to be the difference — at least this early in the season. Young receivers sometimes have difficulty making the transition, but Golladay seems to be ready to contribute in at least a small role early.
“TJ Jones has been around here and played some good football for us and got a lot of reps with our (starters) in camp,” Cooter said. “(Golladay) was coming along during camp and during the preseason and making big plays down the field.”
Injuries have hampered Jones’ ability to gain a bigger role — and he’s had some hamstring issues this preseason. He’ll try to get the most playing time in his career in a more steady role.
And that doesn’t necessarily have to come at Golladay’s expense, as the Lions will mix the looks they give defenses and utilize the best personnel packages against defenses.
“You can’t worry about playing time,” Jones said. “Anything can happen during a game; it could really turn into expecting to play 10 plays and then playing every plays from first quarter on.”