By: Will Burchfield
Marvin Jones looks different this spring — and it’s not just the shiny blue visor on his face mask.
It’s his lower-body strength. It’s his speed. It’s his route running.
The 27-year-old wide receiver looks altogether more polished entering his second season with Lions.
“I think Marvin started out (last) season extremely well. He’s been doing even better this spring. He’s had one of those springs that you kind of look to,” said Jim Caldwell. “This guy is right there on the verge of maintaining that kind of explosive start that he had last year. He’s really, really had a real good spring.”
It was a tale of two seasons for Jones in 2016. Through his first seven games he had 33 catches for 623 yards and four touchdowns. Over his final eight, 22 catches for 307 yards and zero touchdowns. He went from the fiercest weapon in the Lions’ passing attack to a relative afterthought.
Unhappy with this tailspin, Jones changed his workout regimen in the offseason.
“Just the intensity, picking up the intensity in terms of the lower body and picking up the weight and really building the strength. That’s not to say that I didn’t do it last year, because I did, but it’s just an added focus — less focus on the upper body and more on the lower body,” Jones said.
“Obviously that’s something that adds a great deal to what we can do as receivers. I’ve always worked on it, but this was a supreme focus,” he added. “Instead of just cranking out damn near 400 (pounds) on the bench, why not add some on your legs? That’s been a priority for me and it’s been working out good. I love how I feel.”
Jones’ emphasis on lower-body explosiveness was imparted on him by a friend — a friend who happens to be one of the greatest wide receivers of all time.
“This offseason, before I came up here (to Detroit), I was training with Randy Moss. We were just really going at it and competing. I was getting a lot of insight from him in terms of what I wanted to focus on,” Jones said.
He and Moss met last season through the Lions strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash, who had worked with Moss during his time with the Patriots.
“I talked with him during the season when I was on a little run, just to seek guidance,” Jones said.
They decided to connect in the offseason. That led them to a football field in North Carolina, master and pupil honing their craft. Day after day, Jones was a sponge, both dripping with sweat and sucking up information.
A tip that Moss gave him on route running stands out.
“One of the biggest things, especially as a wide receiver that aids in your ability to take it the distance after the catch, is staying friendly (to the quarterback),” Jones explained. “If you have an in-breaking route, coming back negative. If you come back and you drift a little bit, the safety could come get you or the corner could come tackle your legs. When you’re going friendly to the quarterback it creates distance and space.
“We were talking about a lot of stuff like that, where we kept repping it for hours and hours and it kind of sunk in. It’s just been great.”
The two plan to meet up again before training camp.
If Jones has looked different this spring, so has he seen things differently. He’s taken to wearing a blue visor that makes it harder for him to track the football. The thinking is simple: If he can catch a pass with the visor on, think about how many he’ll catch when it comes off.
“It’s a lot darker, so you can’t see the ball as clear as you can when you have no visor. I like it as a challenge, just to keep narrowing my focus,” said Jones.
He added with a laugh, “It also looks pretty cool.”
Jones agreed with Caldwell’s assessment that his spring has gotten off to a good start. He’s stronger. He’s smarter. He’s more familiar with the offense.
“All that is adding into me being comfortable, and I just feel like I’m ready, I’m ready to go,” Jones said. “We’re a ways away but I can’t wait to show what I have.”