When the Jets take to the field before Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at MetLife Stadium, they will find a familiar face on the opposite sidelines. Chiefs RB Thomas Jones spent three memorable and highly productive seasons wearing the green and white. For many Jets, he was an embodiment of grit and diligence, the definition of a true teammate. On Sunday, their admiration will be set aside in the pursuit of another victory.
"He was a big-time leader for us during his time here," said CB Darrelle Revis. "I wish he wouldn't have left. I wish we still had him as a teammate, but we know how business goes and I'm sure he's giving all that leadership to those guys in Kansas City."
In the final year of Jones' tenure with the Jets, two cornerstones of their offense were rookies trying to discover their roles in the NFL. And both QB Mark Sanchez and RB Shonn Greene had the ability to start their pro careers under the tutelage of a highly respected veteran.
"He was one of the first backs I was around when I came here," said Greene. "He's been through it all. A lot of what I do is from that guy right there. He's a great player and an even better person, and I appreciate him."
On a conference call today with Jets reporters, Jones, who's rushed for 325 yards on 107 carries for the Chiefs this season, talked about what it means to still be remembered by his former teammates.
"That's the most important thing is what guys think about you when you leave," said Jones. "I loved playing with my teammates there, and for guys to still think that much of me and still have that much respect for me means a whole lot."
As Greene was learning the ropes in his rookie campaign, Jones was the featured tailback in the offense. He carried the ball 331 times for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns, all career highs. Greene rushed for 540 yards on 108 carries, and is quick to credit Jones for being a better pass protector, route runner, student and professional on and off the field.
"I love to see young backs like Shonn succeed," said Jones. "We had a great relationship. Especially because he played running back, I tried to lead by example through working hard in practice, finishing runs and watching extra film. Those are the things I tried to help him with, and he responded."
In 2009 head coach Rex Ryan's "Ground & Pound" was born. Although Jones had a special bond with Greene, his leadership extended well beyond his own position.
"He's one of the best teammates I ever had," said Sanchez. "He's a real team leader, and he didn't say much, but when he did it was from the heart. He's one of the best players I've ever been around. That was a fun time."
Now looked upon to lead the offense, Sanchez takes the lessons taught by Jones and applies them to a younger generation of Jets.
"I was just trying to stay afloat," said Sanchez. "He was one of the first guys who came up to me and said, 'Hey, man, you're our guy. We drafted you for a reason. Prove them all wrong.' So when we get a younger guy like Joe McKnight or Jeremy Kerley, if they fumble or drop a pass, I remind them of that."
They once shared a locker room, but the current Jets defenders will have their hands full trying to take down the 5'10", 210-pound Jones on Sunday.
"I never got to tackle him, not even in training camp," said Revis. "He has a reputation of running hard. He has those big arms he tries to plow you over with. I'll probably have the opportunity to tackle him on Sunday and we'll see how it feels."
Rex Ryan partook in Wednesday's lovefest but made it clear that come Sunday, emotions take a backseat to business.
"He'll be rarin' to go. He's a great competitor," said Ryan. "We always appreciated him. It's funny, we took out an ad in the papers letting Kansas City know the kind of player Thomas was. I have a great deal of admiration for him ... but not this week."