By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – For years, Notre Dame wide receiver TJ Jones looked up to Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford, watching the pair play on Sundays. Just a few days after the Lions drafted Jones, he found himself running plays in workouts with the players he had watched on TV.
Alas, that first experience was short-lived.
“We got in a couple plays,” Jones said Saturday. “Didn’t really know what I was doing, so that stopped that real quick.”
For the most part, however, the first days as a Lion have gone well for Jones, though he admits the learning curve is steep and that he is working to get used to the rigorous schedule. For now, he is enjoying the process and just trying to soak it all in.
“When you go from college to professional – I was at Notre Dame, it is a big program, there’s a lot of media coverage, there’s greats who come from there, but at the same time, while I’m at Notre Dame, I’m looking up to people like Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, looking up to quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford,” Jones said. “Getting to play with your role models, it takes some getting used to.
“At first it was a little overwhelming,” Jones added. “It’s kind of a dream come true to have such greats surrounding you. After the first time, it’s kind of, ‘This is what you need to expect. This is something you have to get used to.’ Because if you want to play next year, if I want to get on the field, I’m going to be surrounded by them.”
Jones will be trying to differentiate himself at a crowded position in Detroit. The Lions already had the best wide receiver in the game in Johnson, and in the offseason they picked up Golden Tate, the primary wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks team that just won the Super Bowl. In addition to those two, there are several role players from last season – Jeremy Ross, Kevin Ogletree, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles – who could also merit playing time. Because the team’s new offense is purported to be modeled after that of the New Orleans Saints, the expectation is that Stafford could also be throwing quite a few passes in the direction of tight end Eric Ebron, a first-round pick who could be used in much the same way as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham.
With all those potential targets for Stafford, it could be hard for Jones to find a place to fit. On the flip side, he has the opportunity to pick the brains of some of the best at his position. So far, his interactions with the veterans seem to have been positive.
As Jones recalled his first meeting with Johnson, his eyes widened with excitement.
“I was like, ‘Wassup!’” he said with a laugh. “Wasn’t really sure what to say. You never know how people are going to interact with you. He’s very welcoming, very down-to-earth, humble, makes you comfortable to be around him, so that was definitely a positive for me that first time.”
Jones already had something of a connection with Tate, who also played at Notre Dame. That commonality is one Jones and Tate share with running back Theo Riddick. Jones said having new teammates from the same college has been a big help.
“It’s made it a lot easier having him and [running back] Theo Riddick, both guys that I knew previous,” Jones said. “Theo I played with for three years. Having kind of – I don’t want to say that shelter, but that comfort zone, someone to lean on, someone who can show you how to do things or when to be places, and it’s not kind of going in with no friends, and they can introduce you to other people. It’s definitely comforting and made my transition easier. ”
It sounds like any little bit of familiarity is more than welcome because when it comes to the offense, Jones said not too much looks similar to Brian Kelly’s offense that he knew at Notre Dame.
“Couldn’t be more different,” Jones said. “It’s definitely just concept-wise, a lot of the concepts, they’re similar, but here there’s a lot of details that are different, from splits to depth of routes to what they call their plays, so it’s really, for me, been picking up an entire new offense, new everything.”