WR Daniel Jones got his first NFL shot with St. Louis last year, but feels more prepared for camp in 2000
It's your first day on the job, and you don't want to bomb.
That may be what Daniel Jones thought to himself on Thursday. Catch a bomb? Now that's another story.
On a roster of 88 players headed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp, Jones was the 88th player added. He was signed on Wednesday after a successful stint in the NFL Europe League, making him one of 11 wide receivers in camp. He joins a group that is deep and eager to prove itself.
Of course, somebody has to be the last player added before camp, and the Buccaneers have a history of giving their lesser-known free agents a fair shake. Still Jones would seem to have a few extra hurdles in front of him in his quest to make the shakedown from 88 to 53. He's the newest face on the field, so it would help to make a good first impression.
And that's what Jones did on Thursday during the second of three pre-camp rookie practices.
"Not bad," said Head Coach Tony Dungy when asked about Jones' debut. "We're happy to have him. It's tough not having the preparation, but he's shown in the NFL Europe League that he can catch the ball."
Wide Receivers Coach Charlie Williams got the same impression as Dungy. "For the first day, he didn't do bad," said Williams. "He just got his (play)book last night, then came out today and did a nice job. I'm going to work with him tomorrow afternoon, talk some football and try to get him caught up. I'll never get him all the way caught up because there's a lot of stuff, but he did well today. He catches the ball with his hands, that's what I like."
It was, of course, just one abbreviated practice, and a slowed-down one at that. No particular player really stood out above the rest, nor was one expected to. Still, Jones held his own and provided an early highlight when he beat his man in one-on-one drills and caught a perfectly thrown bomb from rookie QB Joe Hamilton. He was unimpressed with his own performance afterward, but not with his ultimate NFL chances.
Last year, as a rookie, Jones got his first crack with the eventual Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams. He didn't make the 53-man roster, and his stint on the practice squad ended before the season did, but he was a consideration until the end of training camp. The experience has left him better prepared for another shot this year.
"I learned a lot getting in there with Isaac Bruce and Az Hakim and Ricky Proehl," said Jones. "Those guys taught me a lot. Trying to make that team last year, that was a hard thing to do. They were real strong at wideout, and just making it to the end of the cuts as a rookie…I learned a lot. Here, they have Keyshawn and Reidel and Jacquez and Karl Williams, and I can learn from them. I'll try to make the team, get on special teams, return some kicks."
Specifically, Jones learned a little about the NFL work regimen that had not taken hold in him during college, when he starred at Utah. "At Utah, I used to do whatever," he said. "At practice, I'd catch the ball and run maybe five yards…stuff like that. My coaches never told me about finishing and running down the field after the catch in practice. I went to St. Louis and did the same thing, and the coaches were always on me: 'You've got to finish, you've got to finish, you've got to finish.'
"It was between me and another guy (to stay with the Rams), and the coach told me that it wasn't that I couldn't play in the NFL, but that I needed to learn how to keep my focus for 16 weeks. He could see that I had the ability and the hands to play in the NFL, but he needed to know that I could play for a long period of time."
As valuable a lesson as that was, it wasn't something he could put on a resume to earn a chance with another team. To do that, Jones headed overseas to play in the NFLEL. He knew that was one of the few ways to stay on the radar for NFL teams looking to flesh out their training camp rosters.
Jones' signing with the Bucs, even if it was last minute, was an indication to him that he had made the right decision when he chose to play in the NFLEL. "Yeah, if I don't get (game) film, Tampa Bay doesn't give me a chance," he said. "I went over there and worked for it, and now I'm going to come in and do my best and try to make the team.
Jones played part of the season with the Rhein Fire and caught 12 passes for 157 yards and one touchdown. He finished with the Barcelona Dragons, and though he only caught one pass for that squad, he did get to play a more varied role.
"I started out with Rhein and played seven games with them," said Jones. "The coach basically said that there wasn't a reason he traded me – he just needed a bigger wideout. Barcelona gave me more of an opportunity to return kicks and play on special teams. That helped me out."
That means Jones is heading to his fourth team in the last 12 months, and must now try to pick up another new offensive system in a very short period of time. He seemed unconcerned by that part of the challenge on Thursday.
"It's a new system for everybody, so I can't say that it's going to be harder for me than for anyone else," said Jones. "They have an advantage, I guess, because they were in two mini-camps this offseason, but I'm picking it up. It's not really that hard, it's just that you have to memorize a lot of stuff. I'll be able to pick it up, no problem."
He was, admittedly, a bit shocked by the heat and humidity at Thursday's practice, which was surely a different climate than the one he had enjoyed for the previous six months. It's also a far cry from his hometown in Blythe, California. Don't blame yourself if you haven't heard of the town.
"It's a pit stop," said Jones with a laugh. "It's right before you get to Arizona, the last city in California before you get to Arizona. You can drive through it in about five minutes. It's like somewhere you get gas when you're going from Arizona to California."
Jones himself headed to Arizona after high school, playing two years at Mesa Community College in order to get his shot at Utah. While Blythe has slowly ballooned from about 10,000 to around 14,000 residents over the last decade, Jones has headed across the country and even overseas in pursuit of his professional goal. It may seem like small odds for a man from that small town to make it in the NFL, but Jones believes he can beat those odds. He did nothing to hurt his cause on his first day on the job.